Better, Faster, Cheaper—it’s not always best.

Company executives are always looking for better, faster and cheaper ways of doing things. For good reason. Their businesses depend on it.

However, I often see these execs overlooking things that work while trying to reinvent themselves with unproven strategies and technologies. Mostly, these strategies fall into a category that I will call “digital.” Those could take a lot of different forms: social media, apps, back-office tools, etc.

At our recent SUCCESS Partners University, it was refreshing to hear from executives that they are focusing on the fundamentals—the tried and proven ideas that help independent business owners grow. Interestingly, the fundamentals include both digital and physical solutions, because some forms of communications are better suited to one or the other.

For example, starter kits play a vital role in the onboarding process for most organizations. And a physical version is far more impactful than digital. More costly? Yes, but definitely more effective. The ROI is still worth it.

For prospecting and recruiting, magazines tell a company story in a way that no digital tool can. And the engagement of a magazine is far higher than digital. Granted, you can send out hundreds or thousands of digital messages with a click of a button, but nothing gets opened like a magazine does. My recommendation? Do both.

On the other hand, when it comes to training, digital is hard to beat. Immediate, measurable, trackable, and easy to update. It sure beats the days of sending out tons of CDs and workbooks. Combine the digital solution with events, webinars, conference calls, etc., and you can cover all the bases.

We could go through every type of communication that direct sellers deal with and identify a “best” solution. But we would be hard pressed to identify the “ONLY” solution.

The bottom line? There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution.

I’m definitely not burying my head in the sand and pretending that digital solutions are not getting better and better. They are!

I just strongly suggest that we should use the tools that are best suited to the task at hand, and don’t overlook the fact that your distributors are not all like you. They have preferences. They learn, absorb and digest information differently.

All I’m suggesting is to look at your options and don’t get locked into a single solution. The cost of providing multiple solutions is minimal and the ROI could be tremendous.

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Build or Rebuild? — that’s the question

If you have ever decided to remodel your home, you know that it is always harder than expected.

It takes more time and costs more than you could have imagined.

It seems so much easier to build a new one than it does to remodel.

When unencumbered by existing walls and infrastructure, you can just design it and, within reason, make a few adjustments during construction and get it exactly the way you want it.

But when remodeling, you are forced into working around obstacles while maintaining the integrity of the support infrastructure.

Sometimes the supports and walls that are already there now seem to be “in the way.”

The plumbing isn’t where you want it so you have to disconnect and move it—perhaps dealing with the foundation and the obstacles that tons of concrete present.

It’s the same for our businesses.

I have run into countless situations over the years where companies have decided it’s time for some changes to their business. Sometimes that means a new product. Sometimes, a new brand. Sometimes, a new market to launch. Or a completely new business model.

In almost every one of those situations, it clearly would have been easier to start “from scratch.”

The existing business structure becomes a hindrance to the process.

The people running the business see things through a specific lens that could be slowing the process. If you have ever heard someone say, “Because we have always done it that way,” you know what I mean.

A few examples come to mind.

I’m currently working with an existing multinational company that is making some dramatic changes to their product strategy for one particular market. Now, after 16 months of work, their first new products are launched into the market. SIXTEEN MONTHS!!!

It seemed impossible that it could take 16 months when we started the process. But, with an existing team, existing processes and existing paradigms, the obstacles between concept and launch were immense. Not the least of which was making sure the existing business is being managed and supported properly.

Another legacy company decided to make some dramatic changes to their “lead product strategy.” On the outside, it didn’t look all that complicated. But, once on the inside, I understood the significance of the change to the existing team.

From initial discussion and decision to the official launch of the new product: 19 months.

Both companies had to change from the inside out. And that took time. Lots of time.

However, I’m also working with a few companies that have gone from concept to launch in under 9 months. These are people who didn’t have a company. Didn’t have a product. Didn’t have people. Didn’t have a comp plan or a computer system. Didn’t have ANYTHING other than an idea. Yet, within 9 months, they were launched and moving forward.

They had a LOT more to do and accomplish and, yet, they did it in half the time.

I am not suggesting that every new initiative in an existing company is going to take a year and half—or even needs to. In fact, I know it can be done faster and more efficiently.

Be realistic from the beginning and understand the obstacles and challenges between concept and launch. Communication is key. Planning is paramount. Leadership is crucial. Complete “buy-in” is imperative.

A really good idea is always worth pursuing.

 

 

 

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I could have been a brand ambassador.

I just went through a retail customer experience that reminded me of two clear lessons that, as corporate leaders, we can learn from.

Let me explain.
For Christmas, my wife decided to give me a new set of golf clubs. Woohoo!
Hoping to have a lot more time to play this year. We’ll see!

I knew I didn’t want to just go get a new set “off the shelf.” If I was going to do it right, I wanted to get clubs that I had the best chance to succeed with. After all, it doesn’t have to cost more to get the right thing for me. It just takes a little time and someone to help.

So, I went to a large golf retailer and had a professional tell me what I needed to buy that would fit MY swing best.

In about 30-40 minutes of testing clubs, he diagnosed that I needed clubs that were ½ inch longer and a little more upright than “standard.” In the end, it was a seemingly minor adjustment to the clubs I have been using for nearly 25 years.

Then, because of the height that I tend to hit the ball, he recommended a different shaft for the clubs so I would have more control.

After testing different shafts and watching the ball in the air and where it landed, he found the right shaft for me.

Think about it—three little tweaks are all he suggested.
So, I said yes, and he ordered them for me.

I’m happy to say that, eight days later, I picked up the clubs and took them to the practice range near my home.

And, the results so far are unbelievable. I have never, ever hit golf balls like that before. Higher, longer, straighter. I still have a long way to go to be a good golfer BUT, my chance of success feels higher because I made three very tiny adjustments to the tools I am using. I still have to work on the fundamentals required to be good but I feel like I’m positioned to do so.

In our businesses, often, two or three tiny adjustments can mean the difference between success and failure.

And, we need someone (often from the outside) to help us understand what those tweaks are and why we need to make them.
Having a coach or an outsider look at our businesses is one way to do it. If you don’t have one, or don’t have someone who can share ideas and honest feedback with you, I strongly suggest you find one.

It’s amazing what a ½ inch and 2 degrees of adjustments might do for your business.
That’s lesson 1.

Now, lesson 2.
When I picked up the clubs, I had a decent experience with the retailer, nothing super special. Friendly, courteous and seemed a little happy I had purchased from them. They stopped just short of where they could have gone with me to guarantee I would come back. With a little extra effort or attention, I could have been a raving fan, but for now, I’m a customer. And, in terms of lifetime value, those are two different things.

But, the experience from the club manufacturer was very different—in fact—nonexistent.

When I picked up the new clubs I had ordered, I was handed a brown box with the name of the manufacturer on the side of it. A simple, cardboard box. Inside the box were my clubs, with a brown cardboard divider that kept them from bumping into each other. And, each club had a piece of plastic shrink-wrap around the club head and then a piece of bubble wrap over that.
That’s it!

No “Welcome to the XYZ family.” No brochure to suggest other stuff. No 10% off a new hat with their logo on it. (I would have bought it that day!) No “follow us on Facebook or Instagram” note. Heck, why wouldn’t you beg me to post a picture of me using your clubs?

No list or photos of all the golfers who use their equipment. And, frankly, they are paying a ton of money to have some of the top players in the world use their equipment. Why not make me part of the family that follows them and cheers for “my guys.” I want them to be “MY guys.”
But no…they just came in a plain brown box.

Could they have made little more effort? Made a better impression by using some other material or color so that, at the very least, when I walked out of the retailer, every single person knew I was carrying their clubs? Would that have cost an extra quarter per box? Maybe.
I just don’t get it!

I want to be a part of their little world. I want to see someone else using the same brand and give them the “knowing nod” that we have something in common. Like we know something special that the other guys don’t.

Why do we, yes WE, NOT make a giant experience for our customers?
Why don’t we make our customers feel super welcome and part of a unique family?
Why don’t we build an amazing community of people who give each other “the knowing nod” of being part of something special?

Why don’t we….
I could go on and on.

When you have someone, who says “yes” and purchases your product, for crying out loud, make them feel like you care!

Make them LOVE the experience.
Make them raving fans!
It won’t take much, I promise.
And the stories they will tell. WOW!
What would the stories do for your business?

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Just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD

When we run our businesses, it is very easy to see things that other people are doing and think, “we can do that too—probably better than they can”.

It’s natural.
I love the confidence that it takes to think and say those things.
But, what I love even more is the confidence it takes to say no to ideas that can cause distraction.
To commit to a plan and stick with it.
To identify who you are, as a company, and to stand your ground when opportunities pop up.

Unfortunately, from many experiences I have had, not enough leadership teams have taken the time to be strategic with their planning.
They have yet to truly define their brand. Oh sure, they all have pretty logos. That’s not what I’m talking about.
Many have not spent the difficult time needed to put a stake in the ground that clearly states who they are, why they matter and how they plan on defending their ground.

Identifying where to play and how to win is crucial.
It provides the direction for the company.
It allows decisions to be made that will keep the organization on track.

As my friend Wayne says—it’s important to create “the guardrails” that keep a business from running off the road and into a ditch.

I’ve watched companies that have built their business on being a weight loss provider get tempted and launch a beauty product because some company comes out of nowhere and is, apparently, growing fast by selling beauty products.

So, they try to “be like Mike” and get into that same game—with no clear direction and reasoning other than, possibly, fear of loss.

We’ve seen companies that have built a business by catering to a specific demographic decide that they are missing out on the “Millennials” or “Hispanics” or the “soccer moms” or whatever… and, determine that launching a completely separate product within the company to attract that market will be the ticket to success. This can often create the opposite impact.

Lack of clarity and distraction is REALLY difficult to overcome.

By clearly identifying all the traits that make your company really special, you can craft a clear direction for the future.

I am not for a second suggesting that it’s easy. In fact, it is really difficult. And takes time.
But it’s worth it.

It takes courage to admit the strengths and weaknesses of an organization.
It takes a willingness on the part of the executive team to be open and honest with each other.
It requires a team to view things with clear eyes rather than through the lens of “because we’ve always done it that way.”
And, without question, it takes discipline to say NO when something doesn’t fit within the guardrails.

If you haven’t taken the time already, my wish for you in 2017 is to dedicate the time it takes to define your direction so that each and every year afterward builds on the success of the previous one.

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Some Things Change, Some Don’t

I’ve been involved in the direct selling channel for nearly 30 years.

A lot has changed over that time.

In the early days, we were pushing the envelope of “high tech” by supplying VHS tapes and audio cassettes as a way to share product and opportunity messages. OK, honestly, we were sharing recruiting messages with a bit of product mixed in. That was the trend then.

Things change.

The running time for a typical video in those days was about 21-25 minutes.

Can you imagine?

And we had good reasons why. We could explain the science behind the length of the messaging.

Over time, videos got shorter. We originally decreased the run times to 7 minutes because that was the length of time between commercials when watching a typical TV show. In other words, TV determined someone’s attention span. Although that is still somewhat formulaic for TV programming, the clear determining factor for the length of a video now is based on how long someone will watch a video on their phone. And that is MUCH shorter than 7 minutes. Probably between 1½ and 5 minutes TOPS! But, as a marketer, you still have to get the message delivered effectively. Although shorter, it still has to be complete and compelling.

And the technologies changed.

In 1999, we created our very first DVD ever. That was only 17 years ago, and although we still replicate and provide quite a large volume of CDs and DVDs, the demand is much lower. A LOT lower. As long as cars on the road have CD players in them, and homes (and older PCs) still have DVD players, people will still want them. By “older” I am probably talking about just a few years. Not decades.

Digital delivery has clearly taken over the way we consume information.

Yet companies are still trying to figure out how to deliver certain types of content. And the technology folks are all telling you they have THE answer.

Some things don’t change.

I feel like most companies are looking for the solution to bank on for the foreseeable future.

What does “foreseeable” mean anyway? One year? Two? Five?

Remember, in just 17 years, we’ve gone from VHS / audio cassettes to DVD / CD and now to digital in all its varieties. We skipped right over Blu-ray. We dabbled in CD-ROM. Some people tried the cute little “sexy” mini or shaped CDs, although nobody did it for long because they just didn’t hold much content and they didn’t work in all the players.

Clearly, companies still need starter kits. But even kits have changed. Smaller. More focused. More precise in terms of the messaging. We have seen some clients jump into and quickly get out of the kit boxes that have a built-in video player or “video card.” Technology is tempting.

Every step along the way and every new technology that was tried was someone’s attempt to stand out in the crowd. To look better and faster. To be more relevant or “ahead of the curve.” To matter.

And… the search continues.

When you look around, the companies that continue to drive sales on a nice steady path are looking at all the technologies as well.

And using some.

Mostly, they are doing the right things right. They are focused on “mattering” to their distributors, customers and prospects.

They are focused on a message that resonates. A message that someone wants and cares about.

They are focused on solutions and products and potential that are meaningful and reachable.

Over time—actually, daily—technologies will change. The appeal of some “new” way to deliver a message will be apparent.

And, as quick as it appears, another “sexy” technology will replace it.

But, in the end, the message is what matters most.

As a company, if you are more focused on the technology than the message, you are chasing a fleeting object. But if you are focused on your message and can adapt it to whatever the “technology du jour” is, you have a chance to truly matter.

If I were a betting man, I would take the company that knows who they are, how they make a difference and why it matters over the one that “all of a sudden” looks sexy because of some delivery mechanism.

We always encourage our clients to get their message right FIRST. Period!

Then, choose the systems and tools to deliver it.

If you don’t, all you are doing is finding a way to deliver a bad or ineffective message faster to more people.

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What’s Your Competitive Advantage?

“If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.”

—Jack Welch

Some products are run-away hits in the direct selling arena. Others may start out with a bang and end up with a whimper. So what are the keys to product success in this channel?

I had a question / response posted to a blog several months ago that made me think.

The multi-part question centered on the idea that, no matter how loudly the leadership screams it, no products “sell themselves,” and it’s crucial to understand that direct selling companies often compete against supermarket chains and mass retailers. There was a sense of despair in the question. As in “how can I compete” with all those other factors making it so difficult?

First, let me make my position completely clear:

Direct selling is not easy.

I’ve never seen a product sell itself.

Products sold via direct selling need to be special and unique.

The products that WIN in direct selling, generally speaking, require someone to demonstrate or share stories and experiences about those products, so that prospects (family and friends) see and understand the real benefits that the products deliver.

I simply don’t get that at my local mass retailer. I am driven to mass retailers to purchase stuff I want in a convenient manner. It’s on the way home.

In some cases, I choose the product based on an advertisement I saw. Mostly, I get to “guess” which product to try because nobody has told me their real experience with it. I read all the labels as if I have the secret decoder ring to make it all make sense. Sometimes I guess right. Sometimes I don’t. Frustrating.

Worse yet, I may go look at websites to read reviews of products from people I don’t know. Sounds desperate, almost, when you think about it.

Direct selling is unique—in theory, someone I trust, who has had an experience with a product, tells me about it. Based on that endorsement, if the price is something I am willing to pay, I try it.

If I like it, I may continue to purchase it.

And, if I REALLY like it and want to tell others about it, I may sign up as a distributor and tell my friends.

And so it begins…

Notice a key piece here.

The product has to satisfy a need / desire I have at a price I’m willing to pay.

My soapbox: If a product sells at 2x-3x-4x what I would pay at a mass retailer, it dang sure better deliver on that value proposition. Or, Houston, we have a problem. The cycle of “I got scammed” reviews begins again. And none of us need that.

You would be amazed at how many products we hear about that are going to “change the face of direct selling.” But in reality, nobody wants it. Or they are already getting it somewhere else (mass retailer or online marketplace), at a price they are happy with. There is no real value proposition.

It’s very true that people don’t always want to buy what we sell. But you don’t need everyone to love the product. You need enough to.

Direct Sales is NOT for everyone.

It is NOT a great way to distribute many types of products or services. (I’m going to hear from someone on that comment, for sure.)

But if your product delivers real value, satisfies a need / desire and has a uniqueness that would benefit by someone sharing real experiences / real stories, it may be right for you.

If your product meets those basic criteria, then, and only then, are we ready to talk about making it a business opportunity.

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Nothing But the Truth

Does it ever frustrate you that you keep asking questions but, in your heart, you don’t feel like you are getting the WHOLE TRUTH in the answers? It’s like something is missing…

It happens all the time.

It’s not dishonesty on their part. In fact, often, it happens because of the level of respect or admiration they have for a leader.

And, ironically, the person who hears less truth than anyone can, often, be the person who needs to hear it the most. The leader, owner, CEO.

You know, the person who can make the biggest impact with the least amount of information.

Recently, a CEO asked us to visit with some of the top field leaders in his company to see if we could gain any insights from them that, perhaps, they would not share with him or other top executives.

You know… questions like, What are they REALLY doing? Why are they doing it? Do they think the tools / materials provided by the company are useful? Things like that.

This CEO recognized something about human nature:  If you really like someone and admire them, you may not be willing to “tell it like it is,” even when asked. A certain level of respect can, often, keep us first from questioning decisions that adversely affect the outcome, and then from voicing opinions counter to those decisions.

The classic fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, comes to mind.

I have to say that I admire the leader / CEO who understands this and is willing to introduce an “outsider” to his leaders in order to find ways to improve.

Back to the meeting…

We spent nearly 4 hours with a group of highly engaged distributors, comprising of some with previous industry experience as well as first-timers.  All had achieved a high level of success in this company.

They communicated well with each other. They felt like they were all on the same team rather than competing against one another. All admired the owner/ CEO and wanted to do all they could to “make him proud” of the company. Heck, they WERE proud of him and proud to be part of the company. Lots of warm and fuzzy feelings.

AND, they also believed the company was making some decisions that were hindering their growth.

It’s amazing how people will “open up” to strangers but NOT tell a beloved CEO how they feel.

Ironically, some of the decisions were things that the owner/ CEO absolutely KNEW the field would love.

In an effort to take great steps toward “first-class” tools and materials, the CEO had overlooked the fact that the people who were growing the business admired the original, more “genuine” story– not the flashy, polished one that was now being presented via the kits, videos, web site and social media.

They felt the story now being used had “lost the heart” of who they are and was definitely not the company they signed up for.

WOW! That’s huge.

The disconnect between what the CEO thought the field wanted and what the field was REALLY attracted to was enormous. And, the slowing growth was the first evidence of it.

This sort of thing happens a lot. Execs sit in their offices and in conference rooms, talking to each other about changes that need to be made. And, often, they lose sight of what the field and the prospects really find appealing.

As I mentioned in the last blog, when it’s time to rebrand and / or update your message, it’s CRUCIAL to ask a lot of questions of the people who will be impacted by the changes. You know, the people actually building the business. Remember them?

Before making these sweeping changes, get a broad perspective from varying points of view.

Ask your internal corporate team, your field leadership, new IBOs, rising stars, customers, etc.

And, whatever you do, do not let any single group determine the direction— even if you agree with them. Rather, use all the “data points” to help steer the ship.  That input will help you determine how far you need to go from your current direction in order to achieve the goals you have.

In the end, it’s YOUR decision. But to get the best results, get input.

Sometimes, the consensus is to make drastic changes. Other times, it will involve small directional tweaks.

You won’t know until you ask. And to get the most accurate responses, you may be wise to have an outsider ask.

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5 Things to Know Before You Rebrand

When the word ‘brand’ is mentioned, what does it mean to you?

Logos and Tag Lines

We get many company leaders who come to us and want a brand “refresh” or want us to help them “rebrand” their company. Here’s the problem: Often, all they want is a new paint job on an old company. Worse, they expect the paint job to make everyone feel great about the “new direction” of the company.

What direction? What really changes when they go from green to purple and put a cool little “swoosh” design on the logo?

Nothing!

When you really think about it, if a new direction is needed, then maybe there are some foundational issues that can be adjusted/fixed to steer into stronger, healthier growth. Perhaps not, but if you’re thinking of rebranding, it’s worth digging a little deeper into who you are, who you want to be and what you’re trying to accomplish.

What Your Brand Really Is

Because in reality, your brand is how people experience your company or product. And, yes, that includes the colors, logo, tag line, etc. But it also includes the product experience, the experience people have with your website, the customer service experience and any touchpoint or place they interact with your company.

While updating, evolving and elevating the look-and-feel of your company is vital—periodically—to keep it modern, relevant and on strategy, it doesn’t replace some of the other fundamentals that must be done in rebranding.

The 5 Things to Know

A few things to know before you undertake a REAL rebranding effort:

#1: How does the internal team feel about the company?

What is going on internally? What is working? What isn’t? What do you need to stop doing and what do you need to start doing? Is your message clearly articulated and communicated?

#2: How does the “external” team feel about the company/product. (This will include your distributors and customers.)

What are the external dynamics impacting the company? What trends are happening in the channel, in the category, and how are your customers and distributors changing and evolving? Which of their needs can you serve?

#3: Where do you want the company to be 3 to 5 years from now?

What do you do better than anyone else? What is your competitive advantage? How can you build on it?

#4: Which key tenets of your company are NON-negotiable? (In other words, what will you fight for unwaveringly and never compromise on?)

For example, if you are a nutrition company, is “organic” or “natural” of utmost importance to you? Would you NEVER accept a product if it didn’t meet one of those predetermined criteria?

#5: What sort of atmosphere/culture do you aspire to have for the company?

All of these questions and dynamics will work to inform and support your brand strategy.

Beginning Your Rebrand

If you’ve decided it’s time to rebrand, then take your time. Be patient. Do it right.

A thorough analysis and a real plan to achieve the long-term goals for the company will be far more beneficial than putting another coat of paint on the same old thing.

If you are considering a rebrand, Click HERE and download our guide to branding, Simple Brand Strategy: A Guide to Defining and Developing Your Brand. It’s an incredible tool that will help guide your efforts.

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