Do You View Your Buyers as Objects?

Do You View Your Buyers as Objects?

Building Customized Relationships with Real People is the Key to Successful Marketing, Instead of Viewing Your Buyers as Objects

If you’re a small business or a non-profit, you’re likely facing three main challenges that affect both your short-term existence and long-term sustainability. Specifically, you need to figure out how to:

  • Generate consistent revenue
  • Deliver on your promises
  • Control operating costs

They’re all linked, and we’ll address all three in due course, but today’s thoughts are mostly about the first challenge, generating consistent revenue. Let’s be honest… if you can’t do it, you’ll go “belly up” eventually.

There are two parts to generating consistent revenue: (1) First-time and (2) Returning “buyers” (for our purposes, this term is broad, including small business customers and individual non-profit donors). Ideally, you’ll get buyers in the door, and then they’ll keep coming back because they like what they see. Both are crucial—you have to capture them to begin with, and you have to get them to return. It would be nice if this just happened automatically, to be sure, but unless you’re really, really lucky, you have to work at it. The question, obviously, is how.

Perhaps the biggest mistake small businesses and non-profits make is to think about buyers as transactional—simply put, organizations are focused on the purchase, and they don’t care who makes it. This perspective leads to marketing approaches that treat buyers as objects rather than humans with different attributes, preferences, behaviors, and decision drivers. As such, outreach is typically quite messy, characterized by casting a wide net with a single message, and emphasizing what is (or was) “trendy” with respect to outreach (e.g., the latest and greatest in social media).

These approaches may, in fact, return some results, but they usually cost more than they need to, and they leave a lot of money on the table. They are not cost-effective, and the outcomes they generate are sub-optimal. Fortunately, there’s another way to do it, and small businesses and non-profits can do so much better. The key is addressing buyers as individuals, and building long-term relationships by engaging them on their terms and showing them the outcomes they want to see. This means we need to get to know them, humanizing instead of objectifying.

Think about the best relationships in your life. Most likely, your were introduced, you learned about each other as individuals, you interacted, and you became friends. You built trust, and it turned into “best friendship,” and now they’re always calling, visiting, and hanging out with you. Well, the same principles apply to marketing. It’s about introducing, informing, and converting, followed by delivering and cultivating repeat purchases or contributions. Put another way, it’s about developing relationships—you could say, becoming best friends with your best prospects.

Certainly, this all sounds really good, but cultivating relationships take time, effort, and resources. First of all, you have to learn about your market, and identify the things that make your prospects tick. Then, you need to:

  • Target media and messaging, so your story reaches and resonates with the right people
  • Demonstrate that you’re the best at what you do, and show them what you’ll provide for their money
  • Ask for prospects to purchase or contribute, and make it easy for them to buy
  • Deliver on your promises, and show them you’ve done so (and will do it again and again)

This involves market research and prospect profiling to learn about your buyers. It requires targeted messaging that interests them and cultivates relationships. You may want to offer incentives that will attract them, and you’ll need commerce platforms that conform to their preferences, and are efficient and easy to use. Finally, you’re going to have to the capacity to deliver—if you can’t, your buyers aren’t coming back. Yes, all this costs money—developing fruitful relationships takes an investment. If you do things right, however, it’s worth every penny.

Objectifying buyers and blasting the market may work, if you’re lucky. Personifying and building lasting relationships by knowing them and creating one-on-one dialogues, on their terms, will give you far greater returns!


Tom Morley has 18 years of experience as an internal and external consultant helping clients in all sectors, across industries, in the US and abroad, to become sustainably cost-effective and achieve their visions.  Formerly with BearingPoint and Deloitte Consulting, his areas of expertise include organization strategies, human capital management, and change acceptance and adoption.  His clients range from small, local concerns to international, multi-lateral institutions, and he has advised leaders and managers of more than 50 organizations to help them realize their goals over the course of his career.

For more information or to discuss your hiring needs, contact Snowflake. Mention this blog and we’ll give you a free, one-hour consultation to get you headed in the right direction!

Are Your Employees Engaged?

Are Your Employees Engaged?

ARE YOUR EMPLOYEES ENGAGED?

Here’s why that question is ridiculous, and what you should really care about
 
Employees who are engaged increase productivity by [insert percentage].”
 
Highly engaged organizations report [insert percentage] lower turnover.”
 
Engaged employees drive higher profits and help reduce costs.”
 
So you want your employees to be more engaged, right? Statistics don’t lie, and there’s a reason “engagement” is the new buzzword. After all, if everyone’s talking about it, they must be on to something.
 
Eventually, we’ll figure out that employee engagement is the new change management. It has a murky definition, one that morphs in accordance with the interests of those promoting it. The statistics, as a result, are borderline useless, and the more they are repeated, the more empty they become. Just like the “70% of change initiatives fail” figure that’s been floated without questioning since the 1990s, the “truth” that employee engagement is the “magic bullet” to fix all ills is gaining widespread acceptance while escaping critical examination.
 
On the surface, it’s hard to argue that an employee who’s engaged will perform better than one who is not. The devil, as usual, is in the details—specifically, what does “engagement” even mean? How far does someone have to get into her job to be considered engaged, and what are the alternatives? Is it enough for her to show up for work and perform her tasks accurately and completely, or does she have to have some metaphysical connection to her role and to the organization? It seems that every person who uses the term has his own definition.
 
It gets worse when stock employee engagement surveys are used. These presume that engagement is a one-size-fits-all concept, meaning the same thing at one organization as it does every other. For all of the similarities we can find across organizations, though, sectors, industries, and individual entities have their own peculiarities. Does the individual manufacturing widgets need to be intimately familiar with the mission, for example, as would benefit the person running operations in a non-profit, or is following quality control procedures enough?
 
Moreover, it would seem to make sense that what engagement means to one employee may differ from what drives another. What causes a millennial to meet some mercurial standard of engagement is likely not the same as what keeps the gray-haired, old-school, long-tenured professional enthused, involved, connected, motivated, or whatever the term actually means. This is another reason that employee engagement is a shallow concept—it makes for a great sound bite, but under the covers there’s not enough to provide much direction.
 
Instead of obsessing over the mystical idea of engagement and striving for some state of affairs that may or not make sense for your organization and workforce, you should focus squarely on what you want, who is most likely to provide it, and how to ensure that they do. In other words, step away from stock measures of employee engagement, and stop trying to be everything to everyone. It’s better to define what you want your employees to do and how you want them to act, and ensure they get what they need to do it. This means:
 
  • Getting what you need—Defining requirements (“what”), designing appropriate jobs (“how”), determining the characteristics, experience, etc. that are likely to lead to success (“who”), and finding them (“where”).
 
  • Giving them what they need—Understanding what encourages the behaviors you want—e.g., equipment, incentives, facilities, work environment, opportunities, relationships—and ensuring it’s all in place.
 
  • Following through—Delivering on promises, and weeding out the low performers. If you’ve defined what you need and provided the enablers, performance is your indicator, not “free coffee, please” surveys.
 
Of course, this is all well and good for bringing in the “right” new hires, but what of your existing employees? What if they don’t have what you’ve identified as the necessary attributes? Actually, the same principles apply. You can only adapt behaviors when you know specifically what behaviors you want, and how to encourage them. That necessitates knowing what you want people to deliver and how, providing the tools, and assessing performance on actual performance—making the hard personnel decisions when they’re required.
 
Attempting to fix problems by retroactively attempting to meet some universal-yet-under-defined standard of employee engagement is a losing proposition. More than likely, you’ll be sent in directions you don’t need to go, and you’ll be spending money you don’t need to spend. You can design a qualified, motivated workforce based on your standards and objectives. If you do it right, set up the foundation, and hire effectively, you’ll get the most out of your employees—no matter how engaged someone else’s survey says they are.

Tom Morley has 18 years of experience as an internal and external consultant helping clients in all sectors, across industries, in the US and abroad, to become sustainably cost-effective and achieve their visions.  Formerly with BearingPoint and Deloitte Consulting, his areas of expertise include organization strategies, human capital management, and change acceptance and adoption.  His clients range from small, local concerns to international, multi-lateral institutions, and he has advised leaders and managers of more than 50 organizations to help them realize their goals over the course of his career.

For more information or to discuss your hiring needs, contact Snowflake. Mention this blog and we’ll give you a free, one-hour consultation to get you headed in the right direction!

Searching for Hiring Answers? Start by Asking the Right Questions!

Searching for Hiring Answers? Start by Asking the Right Questions!

“I need a CIO who also has a background in finance, significant experience in the hospitality industry, and expertise in inventory management.  Preferably someone who’s worked in a Fortune 500 Company, and knows basic, applied household cleaning robotics.  With 20+ years in the field.  And oh, I have a tight budget, maybe $100k or so.”

We all need help running our businesses.  I could use an accountant and a business developer, for example.  Maybe you need a CFO, or a CIO… someone strategic, who can also do the dirty work.  Unfortunately, we often can’t afford what you’re asking for… we have $100k, and inevitably the market for what we want demands twice that.  And that’s assuming we can even find someone out there who meets our requirements.

Small firms sometimes get lucky, taking on a person who can do everything they want for a reasonable cost.  These people are the “all-stars,” who can build and maintain your web site, run your technology infrastructure, go out on sales calls, and clean the toilets in their spare time.  We envy the company that’s somehow able to hire the IT-Sales-Plumbing Specialist, because we’d love to have one ourselves.  We seek, but we don’t usually find.

Why do we continue to long for candidates who are either too expensive, or don’t exist? Many companies don’t take the time to think about the labor market before jotting down a laundry list of requirements that may or may not be realistic.  If they did, they would wouldn’t waste so much time and money recruiting people they won’t get, or put operations in jeopardy by hiring someone who simply doesn’t fit.

Before we start to recruit, there are some key questions we need to think about:

  • Do we really know what we need for expertise and experience? What are the minimum qualifications that we can accept to meet our needs, and find a candidate who’s an asset to our organization?
  • Do we need everything right away? Are there “first priorities” that require a subset of the skills we’re looking for, or do we need a person who can do it all, the day she’s hired?
  • How does someone acquire the skills we’re seeking? Is experience the best way to become qualified, or can some capabilities be learned through on-the-job (OJT) or classroom training?
  • Are the needs typically represented in a single individual? Is there any such thing as an IT-Sales-Plumbing Specialist on the market, or should we be looking for multiple people?
  • Can we realistically access the labor market to get the qualifications we want? What will it cost to hire who we’re looking for, and is paying that person our best use of resources?
  • If the market is too expensive, what’s driving up the price? Which of our knowledge, skills, and experience requirements are putting upward pressure on the cost of the potential candidates?

By considering these questions, we open up a world of creative opportunities to get the people we need, at a cost we can afford.  There are so many potential options available when we’ve really thought through what we’re looking for, when we need it, and how it’s most likely to be “packaged” in the labor market.  In effect, we can shape our requirements so that we have a better chance at getting the right resources, without “breaking the bank.”

Then, instead of going for the “home run”—holding out for the ideal person—we look at alternatives such as:

  • Splitting our requirements into multiple, easier-to-fill roles
  • “Hiring down” for immediate needs, and developing skills through training
  • Carving out expensive requirements and contracting them out
  • Moving some responsibilities “in house” to staff we already have
  • Designing part-time roles for highly specialized, expensive skills
  • Using interns or volunteers, if possible, to meet part of the needs

With apologies in advance to the feline, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, after all! We shouldn’t feel like we have to find the perfect match for the things we need done—there are often equally effective, cheaper ways to get the right people.  It takes a little bit of advance planning and analysis, but for every problem, there’s a cost-effective solution.  It’s up to us to find it, and it starts with asking ourselves the right questions.


Tom Morley has 18 years of experience as an internal and external consultant helping clients in all sectors, across industries, in the US and abroad, to become sustainably cost-effective and achieve their visions.  Formerly with BearingPoint and Deloitte Consulting, his areas of expertise include organization strategies, human capital management, and change acceptance and adoption.  His clients range from small, local concerns to international, multi-lateral institutions, and he has advised leaders and managers of more than 50 organizations to help them realize their goals over the course of his career.

For more information or to discuss your hiring needs, contact Snowflake. Mention this blog and we’ll give you a free, one-hour consultation to get you headed in the right direction!

Want to Satisfy your Customers and Convert New Prospects? Get to Know Them Really Well!

Want to Satisfy your Customers and Convert New Prospects? Get to Know Them Really Well!

“Don’t you know who I am?” Yes, that’s the cry of the indignant celebrity when the host refuses to seat his party at the trendy, overcrowded restaurant.  And inevitably, he knows lots of really, really important people, and he’s going to tell them all about how he was treated.  No one will ever eat there again when he’s through, he screams at the top of his lungs.  According to him, his words carry so much weight, the place might as well shut the doors right now!

It’s kind of a funny scene to picture, the apoplectic, self-important politician, news personality, or actor berating the poor, lowly restaurant employee, eyes bulging out of his head and veins pulsing as though he’s about to burst.  We can laugh at the thought, primarily because the likelihood of encountering such a situation as local small business owners is rather small (If it happened to us, though, we probably wouldn’t find it so funny).

There’s a serious question for us in this little scenario, however.  Just who is walking through our doors? What do we know about our customers? When they get inside, are they getting what they want? After all, people do talk, even if their networks don’t comprise the most influential people in the world.  Their connections are potential customers, and what they say (or don’t say) matters.  It’s critical that when our customers come in, we’re delivering.

We can use things like customer satisfaction cards, but they don’t tell us much, and they’re largely reactive – they help us address problems after the fact.  If we’re concerned about delivering the first time, and every time, we need to be detailed and, to the extent possible, proactive.  We need to understand exactly who’s likely to come to us, what they want, and what will keep them coming back, and design an experience that ensures their demands are satisfied.

How do we do this? We can’t rightly sit down and have a cup of coffee with everyone who might one day be a customer, and cater to every single whim of a diverse audience.  What we can do is develop profiles (“personas”) describing the attributes of the people we serve, creating detailed pictures representative of the primary groups that comprise clientele—both current and future.  We can also map their “journeys” from contact to conversion to return.

If we can “personalize” our customers, we can find out who they are, what they’re interested in, how they make decisions, their preferences, and so much more.  This is a wealth of information, and we can use it to communicate who we are and what we do, reach the right audiences, customize the products and services we offer, and tailor the customer experience once they’re interacting with us.  We can get more people in the door, and give them what they want.

Creating personas and journey maps is therefore highly useful for both marketing and delivering, from contact to conversion to retention.  It gets us away from the “one-offs” of resolving customer complaints, and positions us to build a satisfied clientele that keeps coming back.  And remember, even if they’re not famous, people talk… today, there are more ways than ever to communicate with their peers.  When we get it right, we gain critical “reputation points.”

All of this may sound great, but how? Well, it requires a little bit of market research—an investment, to be sure, but one that pays off handsomely.  We can start with our current customers, collecting demographic data, using surveys from our mailing lists, or convening focus groups.  And, we can expand these efforts to larger portions of the public, which can help us both better understand prospects find untapped market potential.

If you want to consolidate your business and expand it, be smart about it.  You can know who you’re catering to, what it will take to get them in the proverbial door, how to get them to pull out the credit card or click “buy,” and how to deliver so they’re satisfied, they return, and they tell their friends.  It doesn’t matter what kind of business you have—everyone can get “cozy” with their markets, and meet them “where they’re at.”


Tom Morley has 18 years of experience as an internal and external consultant helping clients in all sectors, across industries, in the US and abroad, to become sustainably cost-effective and achieve their visions.  Formerly with BearingPoint and Deloitte Consulting, his areas of expertise include organization strategies, human capital management, and change acceptance and adoption.  His clients range from small, local concerns to international, multi-lateral institutions, and he has advised leaders and managers of more than 50 organizations to help them realize their goals over the course of his career.

If you’d like to learn more about “personalizing your market,” contact Snowflake.  We’ll be happy to talk about your situation and offer our perspectives, risk free.  Refer to this blog and get a one-hour consultation at no cost.

When Small Business Opportunity Knocks

When Small Business Opportunity Knocks

You’ve got big plans.  Your small business is staying afloat—maybe even thriving—and you’re starting to look ahead.  Maybe you’ve reaped the benefits of a government small business support like the 8(a) program, or maybe you’ve done it all on your own.  Everyone’s back story is different, but at this point it doesn’t matter, things are good, and you’re looking ahead. You want to succeed, and you’ve got aggressive goals.

It’s time to start putting your vision into action, but how are you going to get where you want to go?

Part of this question is “where’s the money going to come from to meet my financial goals?” That’s obviously critical, and it means you have to think about questions such as:

  • How are you going to maintain your current sales?
  • What new products and/or services are you going to offer?
  • What new markets are you going to pursue to get more customers?
  • How are you going to let people know about your new ideas?
  • How will you translate “I’m interested” into “I’m going to buy what you’re selling?”

Equally crucial, though, is how you are going to deliver once the business arrives. If you don’t, growth will be short-lived, and you won’t achieve your vision—even worse, your brand could suffer, and you could lose what you already have.  Reputation is key to small business growth (especially if you’re detaching from government help), but it’s also absolutely essential to sustainability.  You don’t want to become just another “failed small business.”

Successful small businesses invest in their futures. Their owners take hold of their visions, and they think ahead—“What will we need to look like in order to accelerate and accommodate growth?” The key words here are “accelerate” and “accommodate”—that’s the essence of the challenge.  What strategies and resources are needed to grow the business, and what structures, processes, etc. are going to ensure that customers are getting what they expect when they buy?

Understanding the strategic “journey” is a great first step for small businesses with growth designs.  The “easy part” is setting your sales targets, and breaking them down into milestones. It’s a little harder to figure out the composition—what’s going to drive the numbers? It gets even more difficult to understand what it all means operationally—there are a lot of questions to be answered about what growth means, beyond the bare sales and profit metrics.

  • What’s the best delivery structure at each milestone?
  • What skills will you need to get from Point A to Point D, and Points B and C in between?
  • What kind of infrastructure will be required?
  • What cultural attributes will encourage growth and sustain the results?
  • What information will I need to make smart decisions, are where will I get it?

Once you lay out the essentials, the devil’s in the details.  As a small business, for example, you may have “multi-taskers,” but with growth comes a greater need for specialization.  It makes sense to think about the roles you’ll need to be cost-effective.  How will you design useful roles that you can fill with qualified people? How are you going to recruit the right candidates? What becomes of the people who have loyally accompanied you on your journey this far?

And then there are the challenges you didn’t get into business to solve—human resources administration, technology infrastructure, facilities, etc.  There are many complexities, and too many small businesses don’t deal with them until it’s too late.  Part of the reason is they don’t know what questions to ask and, when they do, they don’t always know the right answers.  Either way, growth is a huge opportunity—but it’s also a huge risk, and not everyone makes the leap.

Why not “wing it,” cross that bridge when you come to it? That’s less costly than getting a business adviser, and you may be wary of the investment it takes to plan ahead.  Simply put, you won’t accelerate growth to the extent that you can, and you’ll certainly have a ton of headaches trying to accommodate it if it happens—headaches that often also cost money and carry significant—even existential—risk.

The decision whether to really plan your future beyond the numbers, and the confidence to start transitioning before the results come in, may make or break your business. To be successful, you need to push the right buttons, and make sure you’re ready for what happens next.  You’ve invested a lot of time and energy into your small business. You’ve taken risks to get this far. Now it’s time to ask yourself, “How committed am I to taking this to the next level?”

Don’t let growth control you.  Look first, plan and act smartly, and take control of your future.  You can make it a success.


Tom Morley has 18 years of experience as an internal and external consultant helping clients in all sectors, across industries, in the US and abroad, to become sustainably cost-effective and achieve their visions.  Formerly with BearingPoint and Deloitte Consulting, his areas of expertise include organization strategies, human capital management, and change acceptance and adoption.  His clients range from small, local concerns to international, multi-lateral institutions, and he has advised leaders and managers of more than 50 organizations to help them realize their goals over the course of his career.

For more information on planning ahead for small business success, contact Snowflake.  We’ll be happy to talk about your situation and offer our perspectives, risk free.  Refer to this blog and get a one-hour consultation at no cost.