What’s the ‘POP’ in your corn? 3 Things you must examine in your strategy if you want to play to win!

How does popcorn pop? Ancient Native American Indians believed that a spirit lives in every kernel of corn. When heated, the spirit gets angry and throws a fit. As a result, the corn pops! However, we now know that the popcorn phenomenon occurs because water trapped in the kernel turns to steam when heated, and like a steam engine, it pushes against the soft kernel, causing it to burst open with a ‘pop’.

Last week, at a business strategy course, I heard a story of a man who turned his popcorn business around by capitalizing on this little secret. This man realized that selling popcorn was a business that did not have much competitive edge. So how do you differentiate yourself when your product is a mere commodity that everyone sells? He started to ask himself ‘who buys popcorns and why?’

His answer – families with young children and the reason they buy is to watch the popcorn go ‘pop’.

So he kinda figured out that the unique selling point of pop corn is the ‘POP’. So he asked himself the next question, how do I make my popcorns pop louder?

After studying and discovering how popcorns explode, he found out that the amount of pop was tied to how much water the kernel had; it will determine how much steam it will produce. He tinkered with various ideas how to increase the amount of water in each kernel, until he was able to produce a type of packaging that allowed the right amount of moisture to be maintained in storage. This allowed him to sell popcorn that gave a bigger POP! Now, his popcorn was differentiated from his competitors in the area that mattered to the client – the POP!

So what can we learn from this story? As the year comes to an end and business planning cycles begin for the next year, what are some areas you must consider in your planning? From this story, there are three things:

First – how well do you know your core customer? Do you know why they buy what they buy? Can you articulate in one sentence who is your core customer, and what problem are you really solving for them? Have you differentiated their needs, fears and their wants? Many businesses have a vague idea about this. And from my experience working with companies worth a few million to a few billion, they usually have little time invested in dissecting this question.

Secondly – Do you know in particular, why they buy from you, and not from your competitor? What makes you different? How does your product or service address your customer’s needs and fears? In a world where everything is becoming more and more commoditized, the need to stand out is critical. The only problem is this – many times, our customers want to ‘commoditize’ us because they want it cheap, but is that the game you want to play? Too many businesses get sucked into this whirlpool of letting your customers, and sometimes your competitors, decide what your business should be. Identify three reasons why people buy from you and focus on making these three things better!

Thirdly – What is the core competency you need that will help you make that special difference? The common thinking is to focus on correcting weaknesses or plugging gaps. However this approach will not help you to scale up. It may solve your problems but it will not help you grow exponentially. Take a step back this planning session and ask this question,

Many of my clients start off saying they don’t know what makes them different; they just try to meet industry norms or standards. Or they list an industry standard as a competency e.g. ‘We have ISO XXXX and this is our edge’.  However, they miss the point that everyone has the same competency as them.

But when we push them harder and help them ask the right questions, they discover that every business has a core competency they can leverage. It is just a matter of finding out, and putting a strategy to enhance it. “What makes us special? What makes us unique in meeting our customers’ needs? What makes it hard for our competitors to copy? These are questions to explore in your planning.

Too many year-end planning sessions go to waste because business leaders ask the wrong questions. Wrong questions lead to the wrong answers, and wrong answers lead to bad strategy. While business may still grow due to various factors, we want to not just grow but to grow continuously. These three questions, when answered well, will lead you to not just profitability but profit-ability – the ability to continuously grow your profits. Happy planning!

Purpose Driven Sales

I’m increasingly intrigued by the impact of purpose on business performance, especially sales performance. Last month, I had the chance to speak with two of my clients, who have been adopting Scaling Up for the last nine months, and both reported a breakthrough in sales after a period of stagnation. Their businesses were not growing, that’s why they came to attend Scaling Up to find an answer. One of them grew 25% in nine months after hitting a plateau. After being in business for seven years; her business stopped growing after the fifth.

So I can’t help but ask – What did you do to turbo-charge your sales?

Both of them, speaking to me on separate occasions, told me the same thing: They chose to focus on Core Purpose.

Both of them spent time to clarify their purpose in doing their business, focusing on answering the questions:

  1. Why did they do this business?
  2. How does this business benefit the client in a way money cannot buy?
  3. Will our customers miss us if we no longer exist? Why?

Once they gained clarity on these three questions, they make every effort to talk about it during their weekly sales meeting. One of the business owners told me she kicks off her sales meeting by sharing how big an impact they are making on their client’s life, and why they cannot do this wrongly, or with the wrong motivations. She shifted the focus from numbers to purpose. They start talking about numbers only after everybody had reflected on how they are doing in terms of fulfilling their core purpose.

And they saw sales increase!

How did this happen? Intrigued, I did more research on this, and found out that studies have shown that when people believe that their work will truly make someone else’s life better, performance goes up by an average of 28%. Adam Grant, Wharton Business School’s professor was talking about this in Linkedin, when he interviewed Jack Welch on why it is important for leaders to provide meaning to the work done by their employees. You can read about it in Jack Welch’s new book The Real-Life MBA. Giving meaning to employees is all the more important, given that world-wide employee engagement towards their work is only at a measly 13%.

So how do you find purpose for your business beyond making money?

One of my coaching clients shared how he found it so hard to relocate to Singapore. One of his biggest problems – finding a home. He then started a company helping people find the right property. The lesson – He could identify with his customer’s pain. He still thinks about it, and constantly asks himself how to lessen that pain. As his business grew, it became more complex, but he did not lose sight of why he started the company – to lessen the pain of relocation as he himself experienced. As a result, they grew beyond the $100m mark and now operate across SEA. Not too bad for a company younger than 10 years.

Selling with the purpose of solving someone’s pain is value creation. Customers pay for value, not for how much work you do. Instilling a purpose-driven mindset in your company will therefore drive value-creation!

So how do you help your staff develop meaning in their work?

  1. Talk about the problems you are solving for your customers. Too many companies talk about how many customers they need without talking about WHY someone should become their customers.
  2. Re-look at how you sell. You can see this in how company proposals are structured – company profile, intro, board member faces etc dominate the bulk of it.

Who cares?

Solutions come after that, and that’s what the customer cares about. Why do you put the part that matters most to the customers last?

  1. Spend time understanding your core customers’ needs and fears, and focus on how to solve them. Demographics will only tell us so much – who will buy, but does not tell us why they will buy. The WHY is the most important question. You need to answer it.
  1. And lastly, develop a compelling long-term goal couch NOT in financial terms e.g. be a $1 billion company in 10 years, but in terms of how much benefit to your core customer. Which do you think engages people more – $1 billion dollars in 10 years or 1 000 000 lives transformed in 10 years? Talk about this big goal frequently and link your employees’ contribution to it. This will motivate them more than money, as most humans want to be intrinsically motivated.

Do you find your business stagnating, or wondering how performance can be better? Perhaps it is time to seriously consider what drives your business.

A tale of two airlines: How Singapore companies can touch customers Hearts

In a highly competitive environment, how do you win raving fans for your business? How do you turn your detractors to your supporters? if you can do this, your business has an edge. Read about it in my latest article first published on the Singapore Business Review on:

Singaporeans have always complained about service providers. Why is it so? Is it because service is really bad, or are companies doing their best, but just not being able to meet their customers’ needs? Granted, there will always be customers who are unreasonable, but what about the bulk of people out there who just want to feel valued and get value for their money? Are they unreasonable as well to ask to be cherished and to get value for their money?

The term ‘value for money’ is contentious. How do you measure this? Unfortunately, the ‘real’ value of a business proportion is often revealed when a ‘crisis’ occurs. While this article is not a scholarly piece on customer service, it is an observation of a recent case where I believe a complaint could be turned into an opportunity to build raving fans by proving that the value of their product is beyond what money can buy. That is the assurance that the vendor can truly meet the needs and fears of the client, not just the wants. However, unfortunately from this instance, we can see that the company was only interested to meet the wants, which is the product they paid for, versus the needs and fears of the customer. In other words, the company was not selling what money could not buy.

As a business coach, I like to ask my clients this question:

“What is your client buying from you that money cannot buy?”

Are you selling a budget air ticket? Or are you selling convenience and happy times for family and friends? Are you fulfilling a transaction, or are you building a relationship? While safety is important, I excluded it from this discussion because it is a must for this industry.

Recently, a couple of budget flights from a Singapore based airline were delayed more than 20 hours, and passengers complaint that little was done to make up for their inconveniences. Even senior citizens and little children were not given assistance their age required. The delay was so bad that some passengers were even told to go home. While I am not going to discuss the reasons for these incidents or company policies, I will look at how their response to complaints revealed that they did not have their core customer’s needs and fears in mind, and therefore did not know what their customers were really buying from them.

After the furore of the incident went viral on social media, which some passengers described as almost like a riot, the budget airline first explained that the reason for the flight delay was due to safety. I won’t fault them for that because safety is paramount, and I would rather be late than not arriving at all. What happened later, according to the people affected, was a public relations disaster, even though the CEO gave a public apology.

What I find strange was the CEO’s need to remind his customers that they bought a budget ticket, and therefore should not expect anything more than ‘getting from point A to B’. He even emphasized that this is the ‘understanding’ between buyer and seller when they transacted. While the whole letter and other correspondences from the CEO sounded really sincere, I wonder why he needed to remind passengers that Scoot is going beyond their promise to issue some vouchers as compensation. Do you think it makes your disgruntled customers grateful?

I find it puzzling why he needed to remind them of that – especially when they were hugely inconvenienced by his company’s poor handling of the matter. Legally he may be correct, but is playing the technicality game going to win you customers? The delay was so bad that passengers were even told to leave the airport and go home. Precious moments of having fun together with friends and families were lost. And these could not be replaced. Will people whose happiness got dashed by your poor service be convinced by your ‘legal correctness’? You can hide behind the ‘Buyers Beware’ clause, but it will not make you raving fans, which is the point of business.

In this case, the response of the company seemed to arise from the need to defend itself more than to assure the customer. In an argument with customers, especially one that was caused by your own mistakes, you almost never win because they contribute to your livelihood. And they have choices. What is worse, staff echoed the view that if you want better treatment when the airline messed up, passengers should buy a seat on a premium airline instead of a budget – and they had no qualms posting that on Facebook. This reveals condescension for those who are paying your salary. I wonder if internally, the corporate culture is one of contempt for their customers. To be honest, I was contemplating a trip to Taiwan next year on this airline with my children, three years and seven years old, but after this incident, I decided I will try other airlines. I shudder to think what they will say to me if such an incident happens and I have two young children stranded.

So I wonder why they felt a need to respond in this way.

Does it make customers feel better? Are you assuring them that you know what they are really buying from you – which is time with family and friends, convenience and happy memories? It seems that the airline just want to push a product to the customer without establishing a bond with them. When things don’t go well, too bad – fall back onto the T&Cs. This is why they will not have raving, loyal fans. If they want to keep things to just a monetary transaction then they will get the same level of loyalty from their customers. In highly competitive markets, this might not be a good idea. No amount of cute marketing will win you raving fans more than a wrong made right. Being ‘legally right’ certainly wins you no future business. Showing contempt is even worse.

So how should they have responded? A good case study would be Air Asia’s response to complaints that their flights are not safe for disabled passengers because disabled passengers had to be physically carried up by people to the plane. This caused the criticism that it is not safe, because the passenger could easily fall if the personnel carrying him lose his balance. Air Asia recognised that their customers’ need is not just for an air ticket – which anyone else can supply, but comfort, assurance and the timely access to loved ones and time with them. No one likes to have a potential holiday or a visit to family spoiled by an accident.  So instead of ‘defending ‘their lack of infrastructure to support disabled customers simply because they are a budget airline, Tony Fernandes, CEO of Air Asia, said,

“It is great to finally see that our disabled friends are able to fly with us more comfortably today with the assistance of the ambulifts and aisle wheelchairs. After understanding the needs of our disabled friends, we have also enhanced our booking system to enable everyone including our disabled friends to now enjoy low fares when they log into our website. As a low cost carrier, we acknowledge that there are certain limitations on our end with the services that we can offer but we will enhance our services and accessibility where possible and we hope to set the example for other LCCs to work towards an improved environment for our disabled guests in terms of enhanced amenities for greater mobility and comfort.”

He did not defend his business’s failings. Best of all, he did not claim that as a budget airline, he could not afford to purchase the equipment that made it possible for disabled people to enjoy what Air Asia was truly selling – convenience, time with and access to loved ones. His reply showed customers that Air Asia understands what really matters to the customer and is on their side despite their limitations.

Why did he do that? After all, disabled passengers only take up four seats per plane. Is it worth the cost of buying the special equipment for them? Some things are not about money. As Peter Drucker said, the sole purpose of business is to serve its customers. This is what it means to put customers ahead of money. And perhaps this is why Air Asia is an award-winning business despite being a budget airline.

What is your business selling that money cannot buy? Find that, emphasize it, inculcate that into your culture and you will make raving fans. When you face a complaint, see it as an opportunity to go beyond the T&Cs, and people will love you for it. When you have raving fans, business will not stop flowing.

Customer Service that Touches the Heart!

Yesterday, I took Philippines Airlines for the first time for a business trip to Manila from Singapore. What I saw touched my heart, and made me realize what customer service really is.

A baby was crying almost for an hour, and i could see the mother trying her best to calm the child down, to no avail. She looked frustrated and stressed, embarrassed. After serving the meals, an air stewardess  approached the mother and asked to hold the child. She soothed the child, patting him on his back and calmed him down. It took quite a long time, and the baby fell asleep, and she returned him to a grateful and relieved mother.

I was observing the entire episode because I had requested for a drink from the same air stewardess. When I asked her again, she apologized and quickly got it. But I did not blame her; instead, I was impressed with the service from the heart. The care she gave to a fussing child and the relief to the mother was heartfelt and genuine. I gladly waited for her to ease the child before asking for my drink again.

I have taken airlines that won multiple awards for service, but I have seen none like that – service from the heart. You can win awards for excellent service by training your staff, establishing service protocols etc etc and have excellent service from robotic airline staff. The danger of ‘over-proceduring’ service can get the job done efficiently but it does not touch the heart.

As I stepped off the plane, I could not help but wonder, how do we reproduce customer service like that?

Some key questions to ponder in the quest to find the answer:

1. Does your company have a great culture?

2. Does your company have the right values?

3. Does your company have the right people – not just the competent ones, not just those who care about what they do, but those who care for others?

4. Does your organisation know, or care, or even realizes that your customers are human beings with needs, fears and wants?

Philippines Airlines, kudos to you!

I will take this airline again.

You should Have Charged Us More!

This was what a client said to us at a recent workshop conducted in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City.

And frankly, we love such feedback. Don’t you too? This is the favorite feedback for every business in the world.

Now, how did we achieve that? It certainly did not happen suddenly or overnight. It was a carefully planned strategy. But at the core of the strategy is one very important and fundamental key:

The CORE CUSTOMER

What is the core customer? And how does it differ from market segmenting?

Firstly, the core customer analysis goes deeper than understanding the market segment. Market segments only tell us the demographics, but a thorough core customer analysis delves deeper than that – it looks into the wants, needs and fears of our core customers. The heart of the core customer analysis is our customer is human – and humans buy irrationally.

Consider this:

Every time I visit Ho Chi Minh City, I visit the same tailor. I had countless suits and shirts made there. Is it because he is the cheapest? Or the best? Rationally speaking, I doubt it, so why do I keep going back?

It is because I am irrational. The human buyer buys on emotions because needs and fears are emotional. For a traveller like me, my fears of going to a tailor:

1. I go home and find that the clothes do not fit.

2. The tailor can’t finish in time for me to collect before I go to the airport. (This is a real fear because it happened to my wife when she went to Bangkok. The tailor could not deliver her suit in time and we left Bangkok without the suit and with an angry wife.)

So this tailor has consistenly met these 2 fears. And that is why I don’t bother to find a cheaper/better tailor. But wait, aren’t there tailors in Ho Chi Minh City who could meet the criteria I set? Isn’t what i am doing Irrational?

You bet! Irrational, but human. Humans are strange beings.

3 things to note, if you want to have a killer strategy for 2015.

The first – Find out your core customer’s needs and fears, and align your company’s purpose to fulfilling it. There is no better way to touch a client’s heart than by giving them the feeling that the reason why your company exists is to meet those irrational fears and needs your customer has.

This requires serious thought, because a company’s purpose is not something most company’s pay attention to. It is like Mission and Vision, two concepts that are critical, but often neglected in the rush of daily life. These two vital parts of the company are left on the wall as posters, but not as a critical part of the strategy to align and meet those needs and fears that will drive your customer to you.

The second – When your value exceeds their perception of price. What does this mean? Let me illustrate with a point  I used in my workshop. Imagine you have a headache, and you went to see a doctor. One doctor charges $100 and the other $10, who will you go to? Even if the doctor who charges $100 is the best doctor in town, you will not go to him simply because the value of a headache treatment does not exceed the perception of the price!

But if you have a heart attack, when your life is endangered, you will pay $100 000 if you can afford it to get the best doctor, right? Why? Because his value to you exceeds the perception of what is a fair price.

Is headache treatment a need or a want? is heart attack treatment a need or a fear?

The greater you understand the fear and need of a customer, the better you can position your product’s value to address their perception of price.

And the last – Be different. How do you be different in a way that is significant to your client when everyone of your competitor claims to be different?

You must be different in a way that matters to your client. And that is again, your uniqueness must address the needs and fears of the customer. Joe Girard, the world’s greatest salesman once said that his customers’ greatest fear is the lost of income arising from a broken-down car. He addresses this fear by providing a personal guarantee for immediate servicing versus his colleagues who only offered a car manufacturer’s warranty.Joe Girard made himself different by offering something of high value to his core customer – peace of mind when one goes to earn a living!

Being a seminar and education business, we did all these 3 things:

1. We emphasized that our purpose is to transform lives and thereby transform the world. We reflect that in our training programs by constantly finding programs and trainers who could change the way our participants think and act for the better.

2. We bring in the latest and best content from internationally known speakers and teachers to an audience who has little access to such content and experience.

3. And last but not least, we have fun while learning through authentic experiences. There are seminars and there are seminars – some are content driven while others are experience driven. For the same price, our participants could have gone to a workshop and sit like zombies for 2 days having content downloaded into them or they could engage in life-changing experiences that make the lessons applicable and real so that they know how to use the knowledge they gained – all while having fun!

We know our core customers hate to waste time and money (especially on a weekend), so we do these three things to make them enjoy learning and to remember and apply what they learnt.

The Core Customer is really the most important piece of information your company needs. Without it, strategy is useless. With it, you can become a company where your clients come to you and declare:

You should have charged us more!

You can do a Core Customer Analysis for 2015 if you are not clear what strategy you need. Just ask! Gazelles International coaching has an entire exercise just to determine who your core customer is!

Differentiating Your Business through Words You Own (In the Mind of Your Core Customer)

Imagine how business will be like if a mental picture of your company pops up when a potential customer thinks of your industry!

This will draw customers to you instead of you working hard to get to them. But how do you achieve this? How do you own ‘mental real estate’ in the minds of your customers? How do you own the words that are the solutions to the customers’ needs and fears?

Last week, I took a flight to Jakarta to accompany our business guru and founder of Gazelles Verne Harnish for his master class to business leaders. Our Indonesian partners reminded me:

ONLY TAKE BLUE BIRD TAXI!

of course! That goes without saying! Any where I travel to in Indonesia, as a foreigner, I would not even dream of taking any other taxi. In case, you have not seen a Blue Bird Taxi, this is how it looks like:

Source: wikimedia commons

So what’s their secret sauce? This is because Blue Bird taxi owns the words in any foreign travelers to Indonesia’s mind – Safety and Honesty: The two things that matter most to business or holiday travelers. At the airport taxi stand, I did not even consider heading towards any other taxi companies even though I had to wait for a Blue Bird taxi. I know I won’t have to put up with faulty meters and roundabouts to charge a higher fare. This brings to mind that whenever I travel to Vietnam for business, I only take Vinasun Taxi.

Source: Wikimedia commons

The only time I tried my luck to take a non-Vinasun taxi, the driver tried to rip me off. Fortunately, I travel to Vietnam a lot, so i called his bluff. That experience only reinforces the belief – only take Vinasun taxi in Vietnam. Again, this taxi company, like Blue Bird, owns the words Safety and Honesty in the minds of the traveler. Whenever I touch down in Vietnam’s airport, its straight to the Vinasun counter. All the other taxi counters and sales representatives are a blur to me. I make a single-minded, focused, beeline to the Vinasun counter.

Owning the words Safety and Honesty really works doesn’t it? They don’t need taxi touts to bring you to the taxi – you walk there on your own, ignoring and forsaking all others.

Wouldn’t you want a customer to make a single-minded beeline towards your office today?

Would you like to be like Volvo, who owns the words Safety in the minds of car buyers? Just ask anyone who had a near death car accident what car they would buy. Or BMW, who owns Driving Experience? All these companies know who they are selling to, and why. That’s why they developed a strategy to OWN these words in the minds of car buyers.

is this about branding? Maybe? But it goes deeper than that. It goes into knowing your WHO – the core customer whose needs and fears you can meet, and who will pay you optimally for that. It is about them buying from them even before they start the process of shopping because they already know it is you. Because they already feel assured before they even hand over the cash.

If you can capture certain words in the mind of your customer, you win the game even before it starts. Business is all about psychology and emotions. Like Sun Tzu says, you have to win the war even before it starts.

Even before the battle of the taxi touts start, Blue Bird and Vinasun has already won.

Is your business owning a few important words in the industry that make customers head straight to you with no distractions?

Would you like to know how to?

In Gazelles, we teach you how.

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