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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422
612-978-3050

Who First!

once again, "who" comes before "what"

nutshell imageIn a Nutshell . . .

A request for marketing writing quickly revealed an underlying lack of focus, for this successful consultancy, in both target market and the catalogue of products and services. A series of discussions on basic business decisions has refocused resources on prospects and products to produce higher returns more efficiently.

New marketing efforts struggeld because the target kept moving and blurring around the edges. They were trying to speak to every possible customer that might ever make a small purchase in this company's services. I helped them eliminate weak markets, more clearly qualify desirable prospects, and sideline poorly performing products and services. With that done, we were able to generate web-based and other marketing tools more efficiently and to focus on higher-margin new and repeat business, without the drain that had been caused by attempts to appeal to poor prospects.

Case Study Summary

Business Function:

Specialized financial analysis training, mainly for banks. This consulting business offers standard and customized training on topics relevant to wealthy customers, delivered in person or, for some topics, on-line, along with supporting analysis tools.

They Said:

Although they already enjoyed steady success, they wanted to develop additional business and enhance revenues with a new marketing effort. They contacted me to discuss writing marketing materials, including direct mail pieces and a revision of their web site content.

My Take:

In initial discussions, the desired message kept changing. The culprit was "drift" in the business model: the target market, what qualifies a prospect, what products and delivery methods work for that market.

Solution:

Back to basics! A series of discussions refocused the business on the best prospects and the products and services that fit those prospects. Turning their backs on fringe markets for their services greatly sharpened the message and simplified its delivery to the most likely sources of additional business.

Outcome:

With potential customers and the services they need tightly defined, resources are no longer wasted on reaching prospects who will never contribute any revenue. Unprofitable service lines have been cut.

The completely rewritten company web site provides much stronger support for inquiries and follow-up from prospects. New business proposals are tighter and more consistent, working hand-in-hand with the web site to give prospects all the information they need

Business efforts are now concentrated on higher-margin services and cultivation of longterm relationships, rather than chasing small opportunities in tangential markets. Generation of new services and new marketing tools is much more efficient, responsive, and accurate because the audience, their needs, and the appropriate message elements are well defined.

A Common Story . . .

With a couple of decades of content development experience -- employee communications, marketing materials, user guides, training, and so on -- I have often seen the situation where a client who is dissatisfied with how their current messages are reaching their audience believes that "tweaking" the message, or making it a little zippier and more attention-getting in some way, should solve the problem.

In truth, however, the client isn't hitting the target with the message because they don't know where the target is. It is either too loosely defined to aim at it, or -- even more common --their efforts are spread over multiple, barely-related targets because they simply cannot bear to give up any prospect they can imagine.

Unfortunately, many of those fringe prospects will never generate any profits. Most of them will drain a lot of resources and never buy. And those that do buy will create hassles way out of proportion to the sale, because the strengths of the provider (my client) do not fit the needs of the customer. These will be high-maintenance, low-revenue relationships that are best avoided in the first place.

It's Just This Once . . .

The effects of this drift accumulate over time. The process is very similar to the ones people use to gain weight or pile up credit card debt.

We usually start out with specific goals and standards in mind. But then a temptation comes along, and we make an exception. The effects of that temptation -- a few extra ounces on the waistline, a few extra dollars of debt -- are still with us when the next little "exception" beckons to us.

And a few years down the road, we realize we don't like how things are working. The things we said we "usually" don't do have in fact become regular parts of our lives, bad eating and spending habits that we don't even notice most of the time.

That's when we start looking for magic pills: the miracle diet, the instant-results exercise machine, the consolidation loan. The problem is that none of these return longterm results. Some of them may make things a little better for a little while, but we have to change our habits, regain our control, if we don't want to end up even worse a couple of years later.

Business is Full of Temptations . . .

. . . especially for very small companies, freelancers, individuals offering financial services. When you work for yourself or your own small company, it is hard to shake the experiences you had starting out, when scaring up business was all you thought about. It's a little like the way the experience of the Great Depression colored the thinking of a whole generation for the rest of their lives, some people could never feel secure no matter how much money they had.

Most small businesses start out taking anything they can get. As they become stable and develop a product/service line, they are in a position to focus on better margins from more reliable customers.

But temptations come along. Something a little outside your usual target market pops up. Or a product idea comes up that really isn't quite in your line, but you see how it would only be a small stretch to add that to your offerings.

The problem is, most of these deviations from the plan just don't produce a return on your efforts. The prospects are too hard to land, and because they don't fit your business, they demand a lot of support. Because you think you're penetrating a new market, you probably don't price high enough, and you end up chasing a few prospects who won't produce real profits.

But once you have the product out there, or a couple of customers in this line, you can't give them up. As with your other bad habits, you have a feeling you have strayed from your intentions, but you can't quite figure out how to get back on the right path.

First Steps To Finding Your Way

The very first step is recognizing that it is your lack of focus that is producing poor results. You may see poor profits, or a lack of balance in your life because you are spending too much time unproductively chasing phantoms and long shots in your work.

The following tools and tricks can help you get back where you belong:

  • Better Profitability Tracking: just because a customer generates revenue doesn't mean you're making money! Improve your tracking of all the resources that go into landing a customer, including marketing time and support after the sale. Then identify the customers that are at the bottom of the list in terms of profitability.
  • Commit to "Firing" a Few Customers: prune those customers who came in last in the profitability sweepstakes. Try to pass them on to someone else who suits their needs better, but get them out of your portfolio, one way or another.
  • Review Past Business Plans/Intentions: go back to earlier musings about whom you want to serve, what you want to offer, how you want to work and live. On the one hand, update those intentions where they have truly changed. On the other, update your business practices where they no longer fit your core intentions for your business.
  • Get an Outside Opinion: you may be too close to see what is really going on, or too attached to unsuitable customers to analyze those relationships appropriately. Talk things over with a couple of your trusted advisors, people who will tell you when you are making a mistake.
  • Be Honest About Resources: you cannot spend more time with your best customers without cutting back on your worst ones, and weaning yourself from chasing poor prospects. If you just vow to do better by your high-margin relationships and projects, you are wasting your time.
  • Cut First, Build Second: Targeted marketing is about whom you exclude as much as it is about whom you include. Take steps to eliminate prospects, customers, products and services that don't fit, and then rededicate yourself to your core business.

After The First Steps Comes the Real Challenge . . .

For every business that recognizes drift and recaptures their focus , there are probably dozens that fail to stick to their resolution to say "No."

You have to plan for relapses and temptations, the same way you would monitor and maintain a lifestyle change. Schedule reviews -- and I mean a hard schedule, with firm dates and time commitments, not a "mental note" -- to detect signs that you are wandering off course again. Collect the measurements you need to see if you are focused on the right markets with the right products.

Few things are more challenging, in any activity, than performing the fundamentals to a high standard. One of those basic principles is focusing resources where they will produce results, and it doesn't happen by itself.

But you can make it happen, if you're not afraid to make a hard, realistic assessment of what you're doing, and to build explicit plans to keep you on track!

© 2008 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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