In the current market conditions, businesses rely on their key members of staff more than ever — especially as organisations downsize, cut costs and freeze recruitment plans.
However, what plans do companies have in place to retain, motivate and inspire their key members of staff? Or are you taking those members of staff for granted? What about the staff who seem to have been around forever or the people that have been ultra-reliable, that you count on and put a lot of faith in?
These are the people who have been working harder than most for a long time. They are the people who put in extra hours without question — the people you can leave to handle things when you’re away from the office; the people who you can rely on to give you an honest assessment of what’s going on.
Yet these are also the people who often get overlooked or taken for granted. They get disillusioned, lose motivation and start looking for other opportunities.
For some firms, it’s the head of accounts or credit control who keeps late-payers in check and makes sure the cash flow is where it should be. For others, it’s the top salesperson that outperforms the rest and brings in large amounts of profit to the organisation. It could also be the head of the admin department or office manager that keeps everything running smoothly.
Now, more than ever it’s important to motivate, inspire and retain these key members of staff to ensure business efficiency, productivity and profitability. So how does your company measure up?
As conditions change, the key players in your team may well be different than the key players in the past. So how do we identify the key players now as well as the likely key players in the future? As businesses evolve, it can be difficult, but you can accomplish it with a simple exercise.
Exercise: Get out a pen and a sheet of paper. Imagine you’re starting the business again today — one that is designed to succeed in today’s market. Draw up an organisational chart of what the business would look like, with the key positions in it. Now step back and have a look at it. How different is it from the company you have now?
If you were to fill in names for those positions on the chart, who are the key players — the essential people you couldn’t do without? How do they compare to your key players today?
As businesses re-engineer their offering, the key players may change. Are your team on board with the changes? How do they feel about it? Can you rely on them to deliver under a new structure?
People need leadership now more than ever. As a leader, people will look to you for direction, motivation and inspiration. If you’re implementing changes in the business, you need the buy-in of your staff members, and particularly your key players for the changes to succeed.
Many change management programmes have failed because they didn’t get the key players on board — those who prefer things the way they were — and the longer they have been in the business, the more likely they are to prefer it the old way.
You need to sit down with them and discuss the changes, the reasons why changes have to be made and what you’re trying to achieve and then get their buy in. Failure to do this properly could lead to people sabotaging the project or stiff resistance at the very least.
If you’re planning on setting up a new team, or re-engineering the business and the people within it, you have a great chance to take a fresh look at the business and set up the perfect teams within it. So what does a perfect team look like?
Right now you need people who are proactive, who will do things without you having to prompt them or stand over them to make sure it happens. You need people who are determined to make things happen and see things through. You need people that are on your side, who you can rely on to perform, no matter what.
Nowhere is this more important than your sales team. Your sales team are always an important part of your business, but now they’re more important than ever. They have a direct influence on your profits and the potential survival of your business.
So right now, who are the members of your sales team that are regularly demonstrating the right traits? They’re going to be facing more objections from clients than ever before — things like "we’ve got no budget", "things are on hold for the moment" and "we need to get a few more quotes" — and these are from clients that would have ordered without a quibble before.
They’re going to be facing more objections from new business prospects. There are going to be more competitors; more projects are going to be cancelled; and more companies are going to be closing their doors. How are your sales team placed to cope? And how are you supporting them now?
You need to work on your sales team and their attitude, skills and abilities — to ensure their sales skills stay sharp and to make sure they have tenacity, determination, resilience, self-motivation, confidence and all the successful traits associated with top sales people.
What can we learn from what is going on around us?
Businesses that have recently suffered the ultimate indignity by keeping their heads well and truly planted in the sand include PC World, Blockbuster, Woolworth and Millets.
It is getting tougher out there for most businesses. Customers are smarter, better informed and less loyal than they had been. They no longer need to, and in fact they don’t, believe you.
Do not join the queue heading for oblivion by competing on price. As Michael Porter says, “Competing on price is a mug’s game unless you can afford go cheaper than the competition.”
Sticking to the old model is what has driven so many businesses into the ground. When 54% of people have more online interaction than offline interaction, it is time to wake up and smell the coffee.
Robert Craven is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut. Robert shows directors and owners how to grow their profits. As well as running the Directors’ Centre, he is a keynote speaker and the author of business bestseller Kick-Start Your Business. His latest book is Grow Your Service Firm.
Every business needs a phone number for prospects and customers to contact them on. But having the right number can help make the phone ring, whilst the wrong number can put people off and drive them into the arms of your competitors.
Let’s take a look at the common number types available and their pros and cons:
These regional geographic numbers are a good choice if you tend to do business locally. They are widely recognised and people are happy to call them. Sometimes customers want to do business with a local supplier, so they can be an advantage if that’s you. If you’re based out of the area it could be worth adding other regional number codes to your portfolio and divert calls to your head office.
Verdict: generally a good choice
These freephone numbers are widely recognised and can boost response when used in adverts. However, whilst calls from landlines are free, calls from mobiles can cost up to 50p/min, which irritates a lot of people. With the rise of mobile phone use, you may be harming your response by using them.
Verdict: proceed with caution, consider alternatives
Calls to these numbers are charged at fixed rates from landlines but are more expensive from mobiles. They are useful for customer service lines but should not be used as the main contact number as a lot of people resent them.
Verdict: customer service lines only, and even then proceed with caution
These numbers are free for the owner and can divert calls to a landline or mobile. However, they are expensive for callers so should be avoided unless you want to annoy your customers and drive them away.
These are revenue-generating numbers. They can be useful when you provide a service (such as tech support) and want to charge people for your time and limit the number of unimportant calls. They are not suitable for marketing.
Verdict: do not use for marketing
Not yet widely recognised, 03 numbers are the non-geographic equivalent of 01 and 02 numbers. Calls are charged at regional rate, even from a mobile. They are also covered in any inclusive calls package, making them an attractive proposition. They are getting more popular as awareness grows, especially with mobile users put off by high call charges to 0800 and other non-geographic numbers.
Verdict: an excellent choice, but publicise low rates to maximise calls
Unless there’s a good reason to choose otherwise, our advice is to select an 01, 02 or 03 number to make it attractive for customers to call you. Paying a little extra for a memorable number is usually worth it, due to the increased number of calls they generate.
Matthew Guise is writing on behalf of Callagenix.
It is hard setting up a new business. It is even harder scaling it up.
This inevitably requires the entrepreneur to hire people better than themselves. This requires both courage and humility. Entrepreneurs usually have plenty of the former, but can be a bit short of the latter.
Anyone starting a business has to be versatile. They have to have enough sales ability to secure some customers; then they have to be able to deliver on their promises, often working long hours; finally, they have to do their own finances.
This can be very hard work and explains why a large number of businesses run out of steam in the first year. But if you are successful, you can then start scaling.
I discussed this process with Spencer Gallagher, who stumbled into web design after a career in clothing retail. He had early success with his company Bluhalo doing simple websites for start-ups; his bright idea was to trawl the database at Companies House for newly registered businesses and offer them a quick “get up and running” service.
Business was good and they were able to expand, so Spencer realised it was time to hire people to do the jobs he hated the most. Top of the list was finance.
Spencer approached the job of finding a Finance Cornerstone in exactly the right way. It had to be someone whom he liked, and who understood and agreed with the direction he wanted to take Bluhalo. He then told this person that they also had to pay their way as soon as possible, to cover their salary and more with increased profits.
The new financial rigour introduced by this person was not always popular — with the rest of the team, or with Spencer himself, who had to submit to it.
The natural mode of the entrepreneur is to say “yes” to members of staff, which can lead to a lax regime for personal expenses. It is very common for a new Finance Cornerstone to attract the nickname “Dr No”, but increased awareness of the need to control costs is a natural part of the growing-up process for any small company.
The next expert that Spencer hired was an experienced project manager from IBM. Small companies usually deliver projects by the proverbial seat of their pants; this works for a small number of customers, but scaling this up is very hard. It requires skills that can only be gained from the successful delivery of large projects, skills most often found in large organisations.
This project manager was again given the specific brief of saving her own salary and more. She used the project management methodology they used at IBM, which turned out not to be as monolithic or inflexible as Spencer had first feared.
This enabled Bluhalo to raise themselves from the hundreds of thousands of companies who offer web design to one of the most successful in the country. Bluhalo now specialises in large sports sites. These have large numbers of visitors looking at increasing amounts of ever-changing content. This requires advanced software development skills as well as expert customer management — all skills that Spencer has brought into the company.
Taking on people like this enables the entrepreneur to back off from management and to spend more time turning the next good idea into a great business, which is what many of us are best at. It is, in a way, a recipe for eternal youth: perhaps the best role model for the aspiring entrepreneur is not Richard Branson or Bill Gates, but Peter Pan.
Copyright ©Mike Southon 2014. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker. This article is a chapter from This Is How Yoodoo It — a collection of Mike’s Financial Times columns.
Like many successful entrepreneurs, Spencer Gallagher left school at 16 with no qualifications. Armed with only £4,500 redundancy, he formed Bluhalo, which was acquired by Gyro International in 1998.
Writing a brief might sound difficult or even boring, but I’d like to explain just how important it is. As a marketing agency, we're creative, logical people — but we don’t have psychic powers. If we did, we'd be able to stop wars or predict next week’s lottery numbers.
So, like all consultants, we need to understand our clients’ problems in order to offer them the best solutions.
Think of it like buying a car.
You tell the dealer your old car is rubbish and you'd like a new one. “Great,” they say, “What do you need it for and what is your budget?”
Now you have to make some decisions. This will make the difference between being recommended a two-seater sports car or a sensible family car. If you tell the dealer it needs to be yellow and you don't have a budget in mind, then you're still left with the sports car or the family car.
As they learn more about you and your needs, the salesman might discover that you are a lofty six-foot-four with three children, which helps them eliminate the sports car and probably the hatchback they were going to recommend.
Receiving a creative brief is much the same. We need information. Here are eight questions that will help you form a fully functional brief that will make any agency love you.
What’s the rationale? Your decision to appoint an agency is important and it will be useful to understand your motivation. Have you spotted a gap in the market? Do you have a new product or service?
If your brief was a car: we've had another baby and we need to replace our old car that has failed its last three MOTs.
It's essential that an agency understands the required outcome and how this can be measured. An agency will know the various ways and means, but not the specifics. These might be increased sales, improved brand awareness or a larger share of the market.
If your brief was a car: we need it to be practical, with a large boot, sat-nav, an isofix system for the baby carrier and wipe-clean leather seats — we have kids!
You'll need to consider who you're trying to talk to. This will determine the most appropriate media channel, the language and the imagery. This includes age, gender and social position. From this, your audience's response and attitude towards the communication can be predicted and assessed.
If your brief was a car: the car’s features (and looks) need to be right for us and our children, followed by family and friends.
This is what will drive the objective. If you understand your audience well, you can play to their needs and emotions. Do you want people to pick up the phone, visit your website, buy your products?
If your brief was a car: we’re seen to be responsible but our mates also think we're cool.
Having one core message is much more effective than several smaller ones. Whether your key message is that you have a range of services available, you have a mega sale on, or a specific call to action, choose the most important message.
If your brief was a car: we’re happy and successful.
Do you need posters, brochures, business cards, a film or a website? And how many do you need? Whilst it may not immediately affect the design or creative concept, it will make a difference to how they are printed, delivered and ultimately — the cost.
If your brief was a car: one car (we're not greedy!)
These are things like brand guidelines you might have, corporate fonts or media sizes. Specifying them saves time and money. Resizing artwork before a print deadline or rewriting copy can be avoided if the details are right from the beginning. Holding your hands up in a square shape and saying "this big" doesn't work.
If your brief was a car: needs to be manual transmission, run on diesel and fit into a low insurance bracket.
This is a serious question and demands a serious answer. Without this information or even a rough ballpark, the scope for creative is massive. It's the difference between an A5 flyer or a thick, glossy brochure. It's the cost of one banner advert or an entire online campaign. Your agency won't know how big to think without a budget and it’ll just waste your time.
If your brief was a car: maximum £18,000.
So there it is, a fully functional brief. It forms boundaries to push against and methods to measure creative accuracy. It outlines what you need rather than what you want and it allows you to be challenged.
Your limits, priorities and requirements are formulated into a simple springboard from which creative ideas can be launched and hit your targets.
“The Porsche is lovely sir, but it's over your budget and there's no room for the buggy”.
Dave Endsor is an account manager at Origination.
Image: epublicist on Flickr
Do you remember the bit in Pretty Woman when Richard Gear asks Julia Roberts her name? Her response is start-up marketing gold dust: “whatever you want it to be”.
How many times have you heard a pitch from a start-up which goes along the lines of: “Our product is unique. No-one else does what we do.” This is especially common in business-to-business services. Ask the same start-up who their competitors are though and they often say: “We don’t have any competition as our proposition is unique.”
Really? I think not and here’s why: the customer.
The customer is king, and in their eyes you are not unique. Well you might be different but the customer still has to have some frame of reference to compare you against to make a purchasing decision. Given that they have to pay for the product/servi
ce they will have a very definitive say on how your product is positioned so you ignore their views at your peril.
Granted your product or service might be totally different to anything else out there but the customer has to position it against what they currently use. That way, they can then decide whether they want to purchase it or replace an existing solution. This is not a trivial decision — particularly in business-to-business.
As a founder of your business you see things very clearly. You know exactly what you do, how you are different, why you are better… The trouble is people outside your business don’t — if they do you are lucky and be, very, very nice to these advocates. But, for the most part, they have neither the time nor inclination to work it out. So you have to help them – big time!
In the IT space there is an old adage: “No-one gets fired for buying IBM”. The point is that we know what the company does and stands for. The challenge for start-ups then is doubly hard. First, you have to get to the decision maker and then you have to convince them to trust you and risk their money and reputation. If the product or solution is positioned in the customer’s mind in a way that reduces this risk, you are half to making a sale. Which brings me neatly to the final point — the pivot.
It’s a classic piece of re-positioning. There are times when start-ups create a product or service that ultimately no one needs or offers benefits that are of limited value. When this happens there are two options: quit or re-position.
I worked with a social networking start-up that was aimed at highly regulated industries. However, the offer of a social network was not particularly attractive to that audience. The start-up repositioned its product as a collaboration tool to reduce time to make decisions and support sales. Suddenly, it was much more attractive.
The product didn’t change but the positioning did.
Marc Duke is a marketing consultant and founder of Marc Duke Consulting.