Managing Change: Reactive versus Proactive Business Strategy

startup-849805_640.jpgIf there is one thing I can guarantee any business owner, it is that your business will experience change. Sometimes workplace change can occur very quickly and in today’s marketplace, it can occur quite often. Although change can be difficult and presents new and interesting challenges, it isn’t necessarily negative. Change may take place in order to respond to a new opportunity. As I tell my clients, the key is having the right strategy in place to manage change, which can often be the difference between success and failure. When managing change, there are two main business strategies – reactive and proactive.

Reactive business strategies respond to an unanticipated event after the fact. A reactive approach to business is all too common. Unfortunately, this approach may lead to lost new and emerging opportunities, or losing out to a more aggressive competitor who bursts onto the scene. Being reactive is inefficient and extremely stressful. It doesn’t allow you to plan because you’re too busy reacting. A typical example of a reactive strategy is to wait for business to decline before investing in marketing and promotion. Reactive companies tend to fail in the long run. Look at what happened to companies like Nokia and Blockbuster.

Proactive business strategies anticipate the events, plan for them and take action. They are ready to capitalize on new and emerging opportunities or respond to new competitors. Research is very important to a proactive business strategy. You have to analyze the market thoroughly, pay attention to the trends and adapt to them before your competitors do. The reality is that no business can be proactive all the time, however if you focus on a proactive strategy, you will be more effective at dealing with challenges and as a result, more successful. A typical example of a proactive strategy is to invest in marketing and promotion to gain a greater market share in anticipation of increased competition, instead of waiting for business to decline first as in a reactive business strategy. Apple and Amazon are perfect examples of proactive companies.

Creating a proactive business culture is hard work but it pays off. It starts with a change in mindset. You need to be ahead of the curve. Instead of racing around putting out fires, anticipate and plan for success! Here are some tips to help create a proactive business culture:

  • Schedule time to plan
  • Clearly define expectations and goals
  • Refine and improve business processes
  • Research your industry
  • Pay attention to trends
  • Stay on top of the business climate
  • Know your competitors
  • Identify risks
  • Search for and find problems before they happen

There is no doubt that adopting a proactive business strategy is the ideal approach to help you shape the results of change. However, sometimes changes come so quickly that we do need to react and therefore a reactive strategy needs to be applied. If you’d like more advice on how to create the right proactive or reactive business strategy, or are looking for other business advice, check out how TAB can help!


Business Growth: How to Improve Your Customer Retention Rate

blog-member-retention-tipsI work with many business owners who are very often so focused on customer acquisition that they forget about how important and cost-effective customer retention is. According to the Harvard Business Review, acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one. Research by Frederick Reichheld of Bain & Company shows that increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%.

One strategic business approach that I often recommend is to go deeper with the clients you have rather than invest the time to attain new ones. I’ve outlined below several tips to help you improve your customer retention rate:

Are your customers leaving you? If you want to improve your customer retention rate, you need to be aware of how many customers are leaving (the churn rate) and determine what is causing them to leave. Ask yourself what as a company you are doing that is causing your customers to leave.

Customers don’t buy from companies; they buy from people. 60% of all customers stop dealing with a company because of what they perceive as indifference on the part of salespeople (Peppers and Rogers Group). Have your salespeople become complacent? Are you making an effort to make your customers feel valued or do you take them for granted? Are you rewarding your loyal customers for their business?

Listen to your customers. Talk to your customers – after all, they chose you. Invest the time to ask them how they feel about your products/services. Understand what they are looking for and what their plans are for the future. Personal relationships are powerful and inspire loyalty. The customer experience is key to your success.

It’s not all about price. Companies are often totally focused on being the lowest cost provider. While being competitively priced is very important, there will always be someone who can come in at a lower price. Price alone won’t keep your customers; delivering the best value will. Value is a combination of price, trust, customer service, delivery, relationships and support.

Has your company lived up to expectations? It’s one thing to win the business; it’s another thing to keep it. Make sure your brand has delivered on its promise and your product/service meet or exceed expectations. Take a look at creating a great customer experience. Managing customer expectations is an important part of customer retention. Set realistic expectations. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver.

Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! Communicating with your customers will keep you top of mind. Remember, there is always going to be someone lurking in the wings to swoop in and steal your business. Find out how often and by what channels your customers want to receive information. Always address your customers’ concerns immediately. If you make a mistake, own it and fix it. Your customers will appreciate your honesty and your efforts.

Do you prize deliverables over results? Every deliverable must be able to show a measurable result that will positively impact your customers’ business and help them achieve their goals and objectives.

Bonus Tip: Conduct an exit interview. There is no company in the world that retains 100% of their customers, no matter how good they are. If one of your customers is leaving, take it as an opportunity to improve. Conduct an exit interview to learn why they’re leaving. This information is extremely valuable and can help you to make changes in order to avoid a similar situation in the future.

Are your customers leaving you? Want more advice on customer retention, or general advice from other business owners like you? Find out if a TAB Board is right for you!


How a Lean Business Plan Can Help You Focus on What Is Really Important

business-plan-images-1024x682As I have discussed with many business owners over the years, a business plan is your blueprint for success. It can help you manage your business more effectively, help support growth and secure funding. There are “Static Business Plans” and “Lean Business Plans”.

Since your business isn’t static, it doesn’t make sense to have a static business plan, which is typically long, complicated and never changes. Lean business plans assume constant change. They’re streamlined documents with no extraneous information. Instead of bloated paragraphs, lean business plans are written concisely with bullet points, lists and tables – easy to read and easy to revise.

A lean business plan is more than just a plan; it’s an ongoing process designed to optimize your business. This powerful tool includes strategy, a financial plan, action plan, tactics, milestones, responsibilities, performance metrics and tracking.

A lean business plan is a dynamic document that must be reviewed regularly and revised as needed. It’s something that can benefit every business. I’ve outlined below four important points of every lean business plan here:

  1. The pitch tells your story. Who are you? What do you do? What is your value proposition? What problem are you solving for your customers? How are you solving that problem? Who is your customer? Who is your competition? How are you different from your competition?
  2. The financial plan explains how you’re going to make money. What is your business model? What are your revenue streams? What is your sales forecast? Cash flow forecast? What are your major expenses? What is your budget to cover expenses?
  3. The action plan is how you’re going to do it. Who are your key team members and what are their roles? Who is your target market? What are your sales channels – online, bricks and mortar, third party distribution? Pricing? How will you be attracting customers – marketing, advertising, promotions, social media, messaging, public relations? Do you have partners or additional resources? If so, list them.
  4. Performance tracking measures the success of your plan. It compares results with expectations. List all of the specifics that you can track – money generated, products/services sold, number of new clients, milestones reached, web traffic, foot traffic, social media followers, conversions…

A lean business plan evolves as your business evolves. It will never be finished; it’s a process of continuous improvement. The cycle is constant – plan, run, review, revise. Review and revise your plan regularly to ensure that your business is on course with meeting goals, sales targets and operational milestones. In my experience, this plan can keep your business on track, and help you determine its success.

Are you using a lean business plan? Want more advice on lean business plans, or general advice from other business owners like you? Find out if a TAB Board is right for you!


How to Become an Agile Business

In today’s competitive landscape, it’s important for a business to be able to rapidly adapt to market and environmental changes. “Agile” is the buzzword associated with this ability to adapt quickly to changing situations; but what is “agile” and how can a business become an “agile business”?

Agile is a philosophy, not a process. Although originally used for software development, it’s now used by companies large and small in any industry. According to the Agile Manifesto, agile refers to:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Becoming an agile business is a process that constantly needs work. Is it worth it? According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, agile firms grow revenue 37% faster and generate 30% higher profits.

Here are some guidelines for becoming an agile business:

Create focus. Don’t be distracted. Get rid of a long list of priorities and instead replace it with a short, manageable list of three or four items that are “must dos”. As you complete one item, add another to your list. This will keep you focused.

Communicate your vision. Communication is the key to change and change-worthy behaviour. Communicate with employees often, be transparent and give them clear and compelling reasons to embrace agility and become agile champions.

Hire the right people. The success of your business rests on hiring the right people – employees who are aligned with your vision and your values. In order to be agile, the employees you hire must be results-oriented, not task-oriented. They must be able to work within an organization that gives them the freedom and the responsibility to accomplish their jobs without a step-by-step instruction manual on how to do it.

Create autonomy. You can’t maintain a stranglehold on your employees and micromanage every decision in an agile environment. Senior managers need to lessen their direct control over day-to-day activities and give their employees control over how they do their work. Give your employees the environment and support they need and have confidence that they’ll get the job done.

Be prepared for the unexpected. Although you can’t plan for the unexpected, you can be prepared for it. Agile businesses are flexible, adaptable and expect change. They are ready for all eventualities and can quickly pivot. Changing requirements are the name of the game.

Agile is motivating. An agile environment by nature is motivating. Instead of working on the same project month after month with little change, an agile environment empowers employees to respond to changes, giving them freedom to become more than their job descriptions.

How agile is your company? Want more advice on becoming an agile business, or general advice from other business owners like you? Find out if a TAB Board is right for you!


Focus on the Human Side of CRM to Improve the Customer Experience

The Customer Relationship Management industry (CRM) has exploded. It’s estimated that 91% of business with more than 11 employees now use a CRM system. CRM is a term that refers to the strategies, technology, and practices that companies incorporate into their business to manage and analyze customer interactions and data. However, many businesses are not realizing the full benefits of CRM because they’re entirely focused on the data and ignore the human side of CRM. The data will tell you how to manage customers, but not how to build relationships with them. Computers don’t build relationships; people do.

In today’s highly competitive marketplace, the success of your business depends upon delivering customer-focused experiences and processes. I have outlined below a few tips I’d recommend for staying focused on the human side of CRM.

Don’t overlook the human side of CRM

Helping is the new selling” are the latest buzzwords being bantered around these days. It speaks to relationships and a service-oriented mindset. Although CRM has the potential to provide deep insight into both individual clients and general trends, it’s imperative that you connect and engage with your customers in a meaningful way or you diminish the value of your CRM system. No amount of data can provide the human touch.

Implementing a CRM system doesn’t automatically deliver results

Databases full of client information are the basis on which to improve customer engagement, but never lose sight of the relationship-side of technology. The success of your business depends on the human element.

Being authentic

This is crucial in any industry. Your sales team are the ones that can help your organization achieve its revenue goals. The human interaction between your salespeople and your customers is what will ultimately differentiate you from your competition, and bring them back again.

Listening

This skill is highly underrated. Do your sales people listen? Do they understand what your customers value? Can they educate and inform? Can they close the deal?

In order for CRM to deliver on its promise, ensure that the data and the human element are fully integrated.

Want more advice on how to get the most out of your CRM system, or general advice from other business owners like you? Find out if a TAB Board is right for you.


Marketing Your Business: You Can’t Rush The Process

Although I am not a marketer, as a business advisor I am often asked what are the most effective ways to market a company. Business owners tend to ask me what tactics they should use to gain the ‘best’ and ‘fastest’ results. My advice is the same for business management: before you execute on a business initiative, you need a plan. Before you implement a marketing tactic, make sure you invest the time and resources in having a professional strategic marketing plan.

As a business owner, you know what you know, and what you don’t. Marketing, as an aspect of a business, is no different. Hiring a strategic marketing agency to develop your strategic plan is just good business sense.

A big part of any strategy is understanding how your customers value what you do for them. Depending on what data you may already have, a strategic marketing agency will conduct in-depth research on your customers and competitors to understand what brought them to you, and also why they stay.

As a result of the research analysis and the agency’s experience, they will be able to create an area of difference for you – something unique that differentiates your business from others in your industry. This brand identity is rooted in what your customers value.

This strategic marketing plan will now act as your roadmap and provide direction for all aspects of your marketing efforts and determine what tactics will be most effective in targeting specific customers. This is similar to how the strategy in a game of chess is needed to determine the moves made on the board.

Once your strategy is complete and you know what tactics are required, you can make an informed decision as to who will implement them. You’ll need to look at your internal resources and skill sets and compare them to external ones. If you choose to take them on in-house, think about who will manage them from a marketing perspective. You may choose to outsource only a portion of your tactics while taking on the rest internally. When it comes to implementation, you have a few options. Taking the time to plan can save your business thousands of dollars in needless tactics.


5 Steps to Getting Your Business Back on Track

tab-croissance-1080x675One of the biggest challenges I find many small business owners face is dealing with complacency. When a new business first starts out, owners are overcome with excitement with every forward step. But at one point or another, the excitement of the early days starts to slow down, and eventually your company may begin to experience a plateau.

A stagnant business is one that faces little to no new activity for an extended period of time. Complacency tends to come from sticking with the status quo and getting used to your business’s “comfort zone”. Many business owners adhere to the mindset of “if it was working for the first 5 years, why change it now?” The truth is, sometimes change is exactly what you need to revitalize your business and get it growing again.

If you’re facing complacency in your business, below are 5 steps for revitalizing your business to get it back on track for growth.

1) Find out what your customers want

A lack of understanding about what your customers truly want from your business can be detrimental to your small business. This is why engaging in market research is essential to drive your company’s growth. Have you had a conversation with your customers to find out what needs are being met, and what needs aren’t? By hiring a market research company or a marketing agency with a specialization in market research to conduct unbiased market research, you will be able to gain invaluable information about your customers as well as your competitors. Once you’ve done this research, you’ll have a much better idea about how you can fulfill your customers’ needs to the best of your ability.

2) Focus on increases in certain sectors and products

Your industry landscape changes at such a rapid pace, and as a small business owner, it’s important that you keep up-to-date with it. Look at projected growth sectors to get an understanding of which products or services are headed for long-term growth, and which ones are on the decline. Some may be obvious, but others may not be so apparent. This is why it’s crucial to take the time and do proper research. Once you have a better idea about the projected growth rate of certain sectors, consider shifting your business model to become more aligned with these industry changes.

3) Re-examine former revenue sources

While focusing on changes in the industry landscape is important, equally important is looking at what has traditionally brought you revenue. After the first few years of your business, you may have lost focus on areas that were once reliable sources of revenue for your company. Have you steered your attention towards niche areas as a result of increased demand, and lost sight of your more dependable revenue sources? If your business has stalled, one of the first things you should do is gauge whether or not you have neglected some of your core competencies at the expense of chasing something new.

4) Review your company’s operations

I’ve found that many small businesses do not focus enough time and energy on their internal operations. Often, owners struggle to let go of the “startup” mindset they once had. This is a shame, as a company’s internal operations can have a huge influence on the productivity of their business. As your business grows, it’s important you grow with it. In a previous blog, I discussed the importance of delegation. Are you delegating work where necessary? Have you considered outsourcing certain tasks to allow you to focus on growing your business?

5) Create a plan

The only way you will be able to properly execute the above steps is if you have a solid plan in place. It’s essential you know exactly what resources are required and how much time and energy is needed to accomplish what you want done. Understanding these two key areas will allow you to set realistic short-term and long-term goals for your business. Remember, making any large-scale changes to your company takes time, so patience is needed to see through your goals.

It is important to keep the momentum going in order for your business not to stall. Although complacency is a frustrating obstacle to face, it is quite common. By following these 5 steps on how to revitalize your business, you’ll be equipped with the confidence to move forward and make the necessary changes needed to get your business back on the track you want it to be.