5 Steps to Kick Starting 2011

Much of my current reading suggests that the recession is over. The stock market is over 11,000 and most indicators are improving. Economist Brian Beaulieu, states that the next three years will bring a broad-based recovery in consumer and B2B markets. He says, “It is time to start investing in your businesses again.  Have you had a planning meeting focusing on continuing to do what you believe is best for your brand, your culture and your business?

Here’s how my Vistage members and clients are improving profitability greater than their competition by concentrating on the following:

1. Customer Satisfaction – whether or not you’ve tried and failed over the last several years, you need to measure your customer satisfaction. Do you track or know your retention rate? What percentage of your 2010 revenue came from 2009 clients? What initiatives are you implementing in December and January to jump start 2011? If history is a predictor for the future, set up key performance indicators (KPI’s) that go back 1, 2 or 3 years. Kraig Kramer’s web site http://www.ceotools.com/ is a great place to start.

2. Sales Process – My members and clients are reviewing and evaluating their sales process. If you are dissatisfied with your performance results, strip it down and build it back up. Develop a 6 to 8 step process that will encourage the client or prospect toward the desired decision. Does your process have triggers or gates that must be met, opened and closed in order for your sales team to earn the right to ask for the order? What are your internal costs for a proposal, a pilot or a finished RFQ? What is your closing ratio with current clients/customers vs. leads generated from your marketing department? Does that ratio suggest you should spend more time and marketing dollars focusing on current customers? KPI’s are critical and essential to create a predictable pipeline. Bob Davis http://simplesalesstrategy.com/ is a local consultant focusing on sales blocking and tackling. He is a Austin Trusted Advisor founding member http://austintrustedadvisors.com/

3. Communication – Are you sending via email “from the desk of…” newsletter both internal (employees) and external (customers). Consider using the US Postal Service to your customers with a routing box with titles in the upper left hand corner. Is your body language messaging positive, upbeat? Are you as the CEO or owner meeting with your top 10 percent of your customers and clients?  Peter Schutz, retired Porsche CEO shares in his workshop”…if you will listen, your customers will explain your business to you.” Each of us need to do a better job in communicating our message, and it starts with your next meeting. Have you really been “present” at the staff meetings? Did you actually help anyone to do his/her job better? Was everybody with whom you came in contact today a little better afterwards? Michael Allosso spoke to one of my CE groups last month and said” …Eyes are your gateway to their soul,” he went on to share that when talkng to a group work the room with your eyes and make contact with everyone over and over again. Hard to do yet with practice a very meaningful talent when trying to connect with your audience.

4. Leadership – Wikipedia defines leadership as the “process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task. I like to say it is pushing people outside of their comfort zone. It’s your leverage, your ability to get things done through others is critical to your growth and company success. Starting with you, list the #1 person responsible for key role, key positions or departments such as: Sales & Marketing, Operations, Finance & Accounting, HR, IT. Then list key measurements or duties. Separate essential from preferred tasks. Then take you P/L or Balance Sheet and assign a line item to each of your management team. Hold them responsible for delivering promised results.

5. Create a fun place to come to everyday. Your “fun” culture sets the tone for employee productivity. Think about what you could do in Q1 2011 that would put a smile on each of your employee’s faces. Small rewards for performance go a long way.

What will you do to set yourself apart from your competition in Q1 and throughout 2011?

Ed Stillman is a Vistage Chair in Austin, Tex., working mostly with business owners and CEOs who are growing their profitability greater than their competition. He can be reached at ed.stillman@vistage.com

Let’s hang on to what we’ve got

It’s common knowledge that It costs you five times or more to acquire a new client than to hang on to what you’ve got. So what are you doing to hang on to your existing clients before going to chase new business?

If half of your revenue or less is coming from your existing customer base, then you may need to concentrate on providing better customer service and improving your retention rate.

It doesn’t apply to all businesses, but most of the CEO clients that I work with derive 70 to 90 percent of their revenue year over year comes from their existing clients, which means that they put a strong focus on customer satisfaction.

The first step in increasing customer satisfaction and retaining clients is to truly understand why they are buying from you and ensure that you are meeting (and exceeding) their expectations.

I tell every one of my CEOs to call on their top 10 customers and ask them why they are buying from them. I also tell them to hand them their business card and let that customer know that they have a direct line of communication to them personally. So if their promise isn’t being met, the customer should feel comfortable enough to pick up the phone and call. Realize that the customer has to create reasons in their own mind to move on to another company–but they will if they don’t feel like they are getting what they need out of the relationship.

The second step is to take the feedback from your customers and focus on what they are doing well at. Once you fully understand what your strengths are and where clients are satisfied with your service, it opens the door to new customer opportunities.

Thirdly, ensure that everyone in your organization is an ambassador–especially account managers (farmers) that have constant contact with your client base. This is your first line of defense in preventing the rock falling through the cracks and losing clients.

Driving Top Line Revenue

One of the biggest challenges that I’m hearing from the CEOs that I work with is the need to drive top line revenue, especially in the current economic climate.

The answer lies in one of two places–either drive more revenue from your existing customers, or go out and get new clients. The problem for most companies is this requires two different types of skill sets from your sales and business development staff–or in other words: the hunters and the farmers.

Hunters obviously drive top line revenue by searching out new business–but true hunters are hard to find (only 20 percent of sales people actually have true hunter characteristics).

Farmers are great as account managers and can drive more revenue out of your current customer base by focusing on more satisfaction. But do you have farmers in hunter roles?

To find out, consider using the CPQ test developed by Dr. Larry Craft, a behavior scientist with over 25 years of experience in the employee assessment industry. (http://www.asherstrategies.com/cpq.html

The test measures the basic eight personality traits that are proven to predict job performance and retention: Goal orientation, need for control, social confidence, social drive, detail orientation, good impression, need to nurture, and skepticism.

The scores are compared against the scores of the ideal candidate for the position so you can compare and see if you have the right person in the right position.

Of course, assessment tests are not the only thing that you need to do when you want to get more performance out of your sales force, but it’s a good place to start.

Many companies are currently looking to hire salespeople right now, and performing an assessment on candidates can go a long way in determining if they are going to be a good fit for the position that you need to fill.