The Systems Thinker Blog

Business Improvement: Differentiate or Die!

Posted byRon Carroll

There are so many high-quality goods and services available in the marketplace today that the world does not really need your business—unless of course, you have something "remarkable" to offer. "Very good" is no longer good enough. It is an everyday occurrence, hardly worth mentioning—certainly not the basis of breakthrough success. Your business must stand out like a “purple cow in a field of brown cows!” (Seth Godin, The Purple Cow).

In today's world, the safe course is the risky course. Boring leads to failure. You must become an innovator. You must differentiate or die!

Consider the bell curve as it relates to products and services. At the small front-end (green-blue) are the innovators and early adopters (e.g., mobile devices, robotics, green energy, social media). This stage is often characterized by fast growth and high profit.


Innovation Bell Curve

The mass in the middle (reds) includes the established commodities (e.g., automobiles, personal care items, and carpet cleaning). These products are characterized by strong sales but lower profit margins due to intense competition.

At the end of the bell curve (orange-yellow) are disappearing products (e.g., station wagons, land line telephones, chimney sweeps, and drive-in movies). This stage has diminishing sales coupled with low profit margins. You don't want to enter the marketplace with one of these products unless your innovation gives it new life. Most successful entrepreneurs work at the front end of the bell curve, in the realm of "new" and "different."

What Is Innovation?

Innovation is at the heart of every exceptional business. What is innovation? It can be a new invention, technology, process, or business concept. However, it is most often a significant variation or improvement to something that already exists. It is the skill of developing the new "best solution"—from the customer's point of view.

Innovation adds new product features or benefits not previously available. It borrows ideas from other industries. It makes products cheaper, faster, smaller, better, stronger, more efficient, and so on. It pushes limits, new frontiers—"going where no man has gone before." When innovations are useful, interesting, outrageous and remarkable—when they remove more pain or add more benefits than anything else available—your target market will seek them out.

However, the innovation may not be a product or service at all. It may be distinctive sales, marketing or advertising methods. It may be an improved distribution or delivery method, sharper pricing, more convenience, lower risk, better guarantee, or “killer customer care.” You must differentiate in some remarkable way. With innovation, market timing is important. Innovation that is slow to market may be overtaken by competitors.

Remember, your business is your product. It is made up of systems and processes that provide consistent and measurable results. When you innovate to produce remarkable internal systems, you will have a remarkable business.

FedEx was the first to develop a remarkable system for delivering packages overnight. Costco created a customer-care system that allows people to return merchandise for any reason. McDonald's developed a system for producing the same fast food anywhere in the world by low-skilled workers. All three took something ordinary and made it into something extraordinary by innovating remarkable business systems. They differentiated themselves, and you can too.

Could your customer say this about you?

"One of our favorite clients is an auto repair shop that regularly puts three to four competitors out of business every year. His business operations are run so flawlessly, his marketing is so compelling, and his customer satisfaction is so high . . . customers are irresistibly drawn in and drawn back time after time. They are helpless. In their minds (and in reality), they would be STUPID to go anywhere else to get their cars fixed" (Rick Harshaw, Y2Marketing).

How Do You Innovate?

Innovation is not as hard as it sounds. You just need to figure out a way to deliver more value to customers than any of your competitors. There are many ways to do this. Begin by asking yourself this simple question: If I were a customer of my business, what would compel me to buy from me instead of my competitors? If you don't have a good answer to this question, you're in trouble. If you aren't willing to get into the Zone and figure out the answer, you're doomed. Sorry, but the marketplace doesn’t need another "good" business. What it needs from you is something better than it's ever had before.

Please don't say you're special because you have higher quality, better service, or the lowest price. That's what everyone says. And, if your strategy is to use catchy advertising, fluff, or fast-talking sales pitches to sell the same old products and services that everyone else is offering, forget it. If all you have to offer is the status quo of your industry, it would just be luck that a customer decides to buy from you. You can't build your business based on luck! Rise above the status quo.

Pricing is often the key differentiation of products in the commodity stage of the bell curve. At the innovative stage, where many entrepreneurs are, it should be your unfailing commitment to meet your target market’s needs better and more effectively than anyone else would dream possible.

Legitimate price advantages do happen. But all too often the cry, "We have the lowest price in town" is a sign of weakness. Translated, it probably means the business has not invested in marketing, quality people, “killer customer care,” and other expenses incurred by well-run companies. Selling on price alone often stifles profit and growth. Truthfully, the customer pays a premium for the privilege of doing business with remarkable companies, but they must think it's OK because they keep coming back.

Here’s what your customer is thinking, consciously or not:

“When I shop I am not always looking for the lowest price; I am always looking for the best deal—real, quantifiable, interesting, exciting, and compelling reasons to buy from you. You'll get my business if you are the obvious solution to my problem, if I were crazy to buy from anyone else. And if you can turn me into an evangelist, just watch your company grow.”

What is Branding?

Some people refer to this process of becoming remarkable as "branding." Business owners tend to think of branding as advertising, when advertising is just one element of branding.

"A brand is not what you say it is. It's not a logo, corporate identity or product; it is a gut feeling about a product, service or company. It takes a village to build a brand—customers, vendors, employees, partners, stockholders. When enough people have the same gut feeling, you have a brand" (Marty Neumeier, The Brand Gap).

Branding touches every part of your business. It is the integration of all business systems to create consistency for customers, vendors, employees, and you as the owner. When the "outside perception" of your business is remarkable, and the "inside reality" of your business is remarkable, you become the buzz of the marketplace, and you will have a brand.

Peter Drucker said, “a business has two purposes: marketing and innovation.” Get into the Zone. Innovate. Seize a differentiating idea, dramatize it, and make it your own. Position your business in the marketplace as a beacon on a hill to your target market. Make your business truly remarkable!

Once you have differentiated your business in the marketplace and developed effective sales and marketing systems, you must do everything in your power to keep customers coming back. You need business systems that will give them a great buying experience and convert them to loyal patrons.

Step 7: Convert with “Killer Customer Care”
Back to Table of Contents: 10 Easy Steps to Grow the Perfect Business

 

 

 

 

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Tags: Business Systems, Innovation

Business Improvement: Systemize Everything!

Posted byRon Carroll

In the Zone you are flooded with inspiration and ideas to improve your business. You have a vision of what the business is going to look like when it is "finished." You have written down specific goals. You are now ready to take steps to grow the perfect business. This is where the real fun begins.

As you look at your business through a microscope, you see it is made up of systems and subsystems. You realize that smooth-running systems create a smooth-running business. You conclude that your business will operate best when there is harmonious and orderly interaction between its vital systems. Business systems are the building blocks for creating the perfect business, one that runs itself efficiently and profitably. Let's explore this further.

Smooth-running business systems

Systems are the solution to problems

All businesses have challenges that can create frustration for business owners and customers. A frustrating condition exists when there is a specific, recurring problem over which the business owner feels little or no control. Have you ever thought:

  • "My cash flow is stressing me out."
  • "I can't seem to hire good people."
  • "Our quality needs improvement."
  • "Employees are wasting time."
  • "I don't get enough sales leads."
  • "Profits are down."

These undesirable patterns can be eliminated by simply installing effective business systems. Systems are the logical and practical solutions to your business problems and they are just waiting to be discovered.

What exactly is a system? An effective system is a procedure, process, method, or course of action that produces a consistent and measurable result.

Every business has informal systems but that informality is the reason for much of the inefficiency and frustration. Pricing systems, hiring systems, lead generation systems, quality control systems, and every other loosey-goosey, informal system can change with the whims of people and will not consistently produce the desired outcome. When systems are set up properly and well documented, they remove all of the guesswork and deliver a specific, measurable result every time.

Effective systems also enable the business to run itself profitably without the hands-on involvement of the business owner.

Systems are the “Magic formula” for success

Businesses often struggle with profit margins when there is continuous change in the delivery of products or services. Routine systems and procedures enhance profitability. Once the system is defined, money is made when ordinary people learn to do it fast and do it well. Generalized solutions, seat-of-the-pants operations, "human nature," and everything left to chance is replaced with detailed procedures, performance standards, and accountability. Technology, as painful as it often is, can be a great ally.

The organization chart, which visually describes the structure, leadership, and relationships within the organization, is the most fundamental business system. All other systems fall somewhere within the specified job functions on this organizational chart. For example, a lead generation system would fall under the job function of "marketing."

Good business systems increase efficiency, accomplish objectives, and give customers what they want every single time. They are the solution to frustrations, wasted resources, poor performance, and other business problems. While the right people are critical to an organization, a mature business has fully-developed systems and is systems-dependent rather than people-dependent. The time and cost to create a system is repaid many times over. Systems must be simple, in writing, and easily understood by operators to be effective.

Start creating systems today

Many systems are no more than a form or a checklist. Some are more complex. Systems are often modified and improved, but always provide the best-known way of getting the job done. Remember, all new systems require owners and employees to have the "will" to implement change and stick with the new method of doing things.

There are three stages to developing an effective system.

Stage 1 - Design the System. Identify from business information, personal frustration, or customer dissatisfaction the areas of the business that need improvement. Defining the problem and its causes will often point to the system solution. Describe what the new system will look like and what effect it will have on the organization. Estimate the costs and benefits of the new system and decide if you have the "will" (time, financial resources, and determination) to see the development process through to completion.

Stage 2 - Develop the System. Innovate new procedures, processes, or methods to solve problems and accomplish objectives. Innovations are the "best-known way of doing things" and should be simple, repeatable, and customer-driven. The completed system should contain all definitions, policies, detailed procedures, forms, management reports, and every component necessary for an employee to operate the system with exactness. For a business system to be effective, it must be documented!

Stage 3 - Deploy the System. Implement the documented system. Eliminate employee discretion, "the enemy of order, standardization and quality" (Theodore Levitt, Marketing For Business Growth). Perform the task or procedure the same way every time, or until innovation improves it. Measure the impact of each system innovation on your business and its effectiveness over time. Assign clear responsibility and accountability for the performance of the system.

This sounds like a lot of work. It is! But it is the essential process for growing the perfect business. Some systems will take hours, some days, and some weeks to implement. You'll have a dozen or so critical systems and many small subsystems. Accounting and marketing are the two granddaddy systems that drive the business. If you spend regular time in the Zone, you will get the task accomplished sooner than you might imagine.

When you think about it, this is why you got into business in the first place — to build a business that you could sell, franchise, or hire someone to run for you. A business built on systems is the only way to do it. Each system in place is one more step toward a business that works profitably and leads you to financial and personal freedom.

Become a Systems Thinker. Step back and look at your business as a world of integrated systems. Identify weaknesses. Get in the Zone and start designing new or improved systems today! Once you begin Systems Thinking, ideas will flow into your mind 24/7. Have a notebook to write them down.

Take a look at your accounting system first. It plays a critical role in your business. Its importance cannot be overstated. Your next step is to get in control of the “numbers.”

Step 3: Manage by the Numbers
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Tags: Systems Thinker, Business Systems, Innovation

Business Improvement: Get Off the Treadmill and Into the "Zone"!

Posted byRon Carroll

Your business will never give you what you want until you get off the phone, out of meetings, away from the office, and into a quiet "Zone" where illumination, inspiration, and imagination produce a panoramic view of new possibilities for innovation!

Work on your business in the Zone

When you get moving in the Zone, your business will progress at warp speed. You will begin to see your business as your "product." You will "work on the business, not just in the business" (Michael Gerber, E-Myth Revisited).  In doing so, you will create a remarkable company—one that will help you achieve your life goals.

For a little time each day or week, you must leave all administrative tasks and daily routine behind, and even take a time-out from income producing tasks. Instead, you will concentrate on the most important task of all—building permanent value into your business.

Miracles Will Happen

In the Zone, you will be at the highest state of human performance and productivity. Something almost miraculous happens with your mind and emotions. You become energized. You function on a higher plane of clarity, creativity, and competence. You are more sensitive, insightful, and intuitive. You better understand the people, relationships, and circumstances around you.

In the Zone, you will hunger for knowledge and read books written by business authorities, seeking all truth that can deepen your understanding and broaden your vision. You will think about your customers, employees, and business processes. You will "dream the impossible dream" and map out the path to its fulfillment. These essential activities are more than just good management practices. In the Zone, they become the catalyst for all business improvement and transformation.

Solutions Become Clear

In the Zone, you immediately come face to face with the brutal facts of why your organization isn't all it can be. You will see specific things you can do now to solve business problems, improve business processes, fuel growth, and plan for the future. You will discover how to leverage your passion to become the obvious best choice of your target customers.

In the Zone, you will be open to a flood of brilliant ideas. You will set priorities and concentrate single-mindedly on one thing at a time, producing an abundance of innovative solutions in a very short period. Your desire to take action on these new ideas will become urgent. Your energy will escalate as you achieve mission critical goals and objectives. You will thrill as things seem to fall into place like never before.  

In the Zone, you will be at the height of your effectiveness and value to the business. You will bring a revitalized spirit to your organization. Your employees will catch on fire. Your customers will take notice. The more time you spend in the Zone, the faster your company will reach optimum performance levels, and you will achieve a culture of excellence.

Get Started Today

Remember, your constant burn of physical and emotional energy at the business leaves little energy for the mental and creative tasks required to work on the business. Get away now. Find a quiet place, perhaps at home, with a computer, and behind a closed door. The best time to enter the Zone is early morning when all energy levels are up and when inspiration and creativity seem to flow. Spend two hours if you can. You will likely start with some time constraints. Don't worry. Your time in the Zone will increase as your business transforms. You will eventually want to spend at least 25% of your working-time in this magical place.

Begin by eliminating some of the personal constraints you bring to the business. Then identify one or two or your greatest business challenges or frustrations. Study any financial data or information you have. Write down what you want the desired results to be. Read a book or two from Amazon.com about marketing, customer service, employee motivation—whatever your challenge is. Ponder and brainstorm potential solutions. Talk to other experts or your valued employees.  

Once you identify a specific purpose, ideas will flow 24/7; get a notebook to write them down. Then begin to create a process, procedure or system that will eliminate the problem. When you get that system done, start on the next challenge (constraint). Keep going and you will be amazed at what happens. You and your business will go through a remarkable change.

I have been working in the Zone now for a number of years. It is where I do my best thinking; it is where the Box Theory™ Way emerged.

When my adult children call home, they often ask, "Dad, are you in the Zone?" If I say "Yes," they say, "OK, I'll talk to you later." I usually reply, "That's alright, go ahead." Of course, I love my children, and they are more important than anything I am doing, but I must admit, it takes a bit of effort to get my head back in the Zone again.  

Please trust me. The Zone is a special place where extraordinary things happen. The sooner you discover it, the sooner you will reap the innumerable benefits! And the best place to start is by creating your business blueprint.

Step 2: Blueprint Your Business!
Back to Table of Contents: 10 Easy Steps to Grow the Perfect Business

*Check out a few things you can do while working on your business "In The Zone".

 

 

 

 

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Tags: General Business, Innovation, Business Leader

How to Become the "Best Deal" for Your Target Customer!

Posted byRon Carroll

Within our free-enterprise system, we are all looking for the same thing—the “best deal.” When we buy goods, services, and even when we hire employees, we want to get the greatest value we can for the time, effort and money spent.

It should be no surprise that our customers and employees are also looking for the best deal from us! However, the best deal may not be what you think.

Becoming the best deal

What is the Best Deal?

Many people equate the “best deal” with the “best price.” Business owners are often committed to having the “lowest price in town.” Many of these owners also struggle to survive because their operating profit margins are too low. What they fail to realize is that customers looking for the best deal are not necessarily insisting on the lowest price.

Customers reward companies that serve them best, and allow the others to fail. It is how the customer feels about your business as a whole that matters most. Everything about your business—advertising, cleanliness, return merchandise policy, courtesy and knowledge of employees, product selection, price, location, delivery time, and so forth—is what they are choosing. Your entire business is your product, and it must shine throughout. When it does, YOU become the “best deal!”

High Value is Better than Low Price

Sometimes pricing does play a role in helping companies become the best value to their customers. Legitimate price advantages do happen. I am acquainted with a landscaper who is the owner of a local rock quarry. He has a significant price advantage over other landscapers who must transport boulders a greater distance.

However, the cry, “We have the lowest price," is often a sign of weakness. Translated, it usually means the business has not invested in marketing, quality people, killer customer care, and other expenses incurred by well-run companies. Remember, everything about your company is what makes it the best deal—OR NOT.

When I grab a quick lunch during the day, I sometimes go to a sandwich shop that is close to my office. I can get in and out quickly. The prices are relatively low, and no tip is required. At that moment, the sandwich shop is the best deal for me.

On the weekend, I take my wife out to dinner at a steak-house restaurant. I will pay three or four times as much for a meal there as I did at the sandwich shop. This popular uptown restaurant has a nice ambiance, provides an unrushed full-course meal, and I am able to court the love of my life. At that moment, the steak-house restaurant is the best deal in town, not the low-end sandwich shop.

On our wedding anniversary, I took my wife to an exclusive restaurant in Salt Lake City. I paid an outrageous price, but it was a night she will never forget. Of the three restaurants, this one provided the greatest value of all: a lifetime memory.

So, the best deal in this case is not related to pricing. Instead, it is the highest perceived value based on my current need. At each restaurant, I wear the hat of a different customer with different expectations, and I have a different definition of what is the best deal.

Be the Best in Your Target Market

Since no business can serve everyone well, it is important to define your target customer and then provide real, quantifiable, and compelling reasons to buy from you. You want your target customers to see you as the best choice available to them. If you own the exclusive dinner restaurant, you don’t care about the guy who wants a cheap chicken sandwich. No other customer matters except your target customer!

Remember, if your competitors offer a greater value than you, customers will buy from them. And don’t think you can make up for the value deficit by trying to “out-sell, out-trick, out-technique, out-cold call, out-persist, and out-luck all your competitors” (Rick Harshaw, Monopolize Your Marketplace). Today’s consumers know value when they see it. You simply must be the best in your target market. Period!

Innovation Can Set You Apart

You become the best by constantly innovating. Innovation is the process of figuring out how to offer more value than your competitors. Innovation is not doing something cool that your competitors also do. It is not just giving your customers what they have come to expect as the norm, or offering a gee-whiz promotion from time-to-time.

Innovation is not necessarily a new invention or business concept. It may just be as simple as outrageous customer care (COSTCO), or delivery times that amaze (FedEx), or an exceptional warranty (Hyundai).

Your value may simply be the result of well-crafted business systems and processes—the distinct and remarkable way you do things from end-to-end. By the way, when your people, products and processes work together in a unique and memorable way to make you the best deal, you have a brand.

Ask yourself one simple question: If I were a customer of my business, what would compel me to buy from me instead of my competitors? If you don’t know the answer to this question, your business is probably under-performing. Get in the Zone today and figure out your unique selling advantage.

Become Remarkable

Because there is a cost to becoming the best, the customer actually pays a premium for the privilege of doing business with remarkable companies. However, customers must think this is OK because they keep coming back.

Remember, your business as a whole is what makes you the best choice. It’s the little things that count.

Be clean.
Be prompt.
Be consistent.
Be courteous.
Be knowledgeable.
Be dependable.
Be responsive.
Be innovative,
Be systemized.
Be remarkable.

And you will be the BEST DEAL!

 

The Next Step...

Tags: Business Systems, General Business, Innovation, Customer Retention

Better Than a Suggestion Box: Tap into a Wealth of Employee Ideas!

Posted byRon Carroll

“You are surrounded by simple, obvious solutions that can dramatically increase your income, power, influence and success. The problem is, you just don't see them” (Jay Abraham, marketing consultant).

Let’s talk about a simple strategy that will help you harvest an abundant crop of new ideas that are sure to motivate employees, give customers a better buying experience, and increase financial results.

Business Improvement Ideas

An Untapped Asset

Though perhaps unnoticed, the people around you possess a wealth of experience, talent, insight, and creative ideas that are just waiting for the right opportunity to be shared.

Sadly, many useful and innovative thoughts that could improve your company are never expressed. Why? You don’t have a business system to tap into the collective intelligence of workers who are intimately involved with your daily operations; this includes the "average" folks that rarely speak up.

Everyone in your organization is potentially a problem-solver and an innovator. If you have an idea-rich culture of continuous learning and improvement, your employees are always thinking: "How can I do this easier, faster, better or less expensively.” 

Researcher Alan Robinson says "ideas are 'free' and employees will gladly make improvements as part of their job if the environment you create is right.”

So what kind of system can you create to harness the knowledge, imagination, and renewable energy of your employees?

The Outdated Suggestion Box

Some companies have tried a “suggestion box.” Employees write ideas or recommendations on a form and put them in a labeled drop-box. Managers read the suggestions (sometimes) and implement the ones they think will work. However, suggestion boxes typically aren’t very effective. They allow anonymity leading to frivolous suggestions or mean-spirited remarks. They focus on problems but not necessarily solutions, and solutions offered are not always feasible. Employees often propose more work for other people who are already busy, and thus no action is taken. Finally, this old-style system usually doesn’t reward successful implementation and sustained results stemming from the suggestion.

There is a better way!               (Photo: Bright Ideas Campaign)

Employee Improvements

Ideas for Improvement

Here are some ideas to implement a business system that will solicit real improvement ideas, generate enthusiasm from employees, and save or earn your company thousands of dollars over the coming year.

  1. To begin, let’s get rid of the suggestion box and replace it with a filing system by worker name. After all, we expect every person to submit many suggestions—often small ones—over the course of a year.  It’s also a good idea to review the employee’s file of suggested improvements during performance evaluations or other interviews.

  2. Next, give the system a new name—something that emphasizes solutions instead of merely suggestions. You could call it the “business improvement program” or the “employee ideas-for-improvement program.” If those sound a little lame, have a brainstorming session or contest to name the system. Let me know what you come up with.

  3. The person with a new idea for a solution or improvement completes a brief form (get a sample form in The Zone) and hand-delivers it to their supervisor or someone who could provide the time and resources needed. Good ideas might help with customer satisfaction, cost savings, productivity, process improvement, revenue-generation, and so forth. A brief plan to implement the proposal is also included. The merits of the idea are discussed, and an action plan generated.

  4. Ideally, the submitter of the new solution should be responsible for its implementation. Ownership increases the likelihood of success. Active participation by the submitter removes one of the major complaints with the old suggestion box: “I gave the company a good idea, but they didn’t do anything with it.” Lack of action kills the motivation of any improvement program.

  5. Always thank employees for their time, effort and feedback. Positive reinforcement will keep the good ideas flowing. Create a reward system for people whose ideas are successfully implemented. Frequent acknowledgment of the many small improvements is more effective than occasional recognition of a few big ones. Consider giving a vacation day, tickets to a sporting event, or a gift card. When others see that good ideas are rewarded and appreciated, they will join in. If appropriate, give financial compensation, partial when the solution is first implemented and the rest over time with proven results. The reward system helps the submitter maintain ownership and a vested interest in assuring that the new solution is understood, accepted, and practiced by everyone.

  6. If you want to create a little healthy competition, do something visible like posting a chart that shows the number of ideas submitted by each person, team, or department. Be creative. Recognize winning ideas in your weekly Business Improvement Workshop. Celebrate achievements with perhaps a pizza party.

  7. Maintain a simple log of new ideas presented, the person’s name, and date implemented. This helps the supervisor know what is going on at a glance and allows for a frequent review of progress. Again, talk it up at your Business Improvement Workshop.

Never Stop Improving

Get connected with your knowledgeable, imaginative, inspired, resourceful, eager-to-contribute employees who are quietly working in their cubical or on a production line. Capitalize on this great hidden treasure you are already paying for.

Every little improvement—hundreds a year— will make your business better and better, until one day, you have a smooth-running, people-pleasing, money-making system!

P.S. - Get the "Business Improvement Suggestion Form" in The Zone.

 

The Next Step...

Tags: People, Improvement, Innovation, System Example

The WOW Factor: Six Ways to Supercharge Your Business Systems!

Posted byRon Carroll

To a Systems Thinker, there is a significant difference between a business process or procedure and a growth-producing, customer-pleasing, waste-removing, profit-generating, business system.

In addition to the six qualities of effective business systems described in the Box Theory Way™, a seventh factor can make all the difference in boosting system performance and helping your business become remarkable.

Let’s call it the WOW Factor!

Business Systems that WOW

Nowadays, we are drawn to people, products and processes that can be described as impressive, engaging, memorable, even head-turning, jaw-dropping, or spectacular.

When people have an intensely positive reaction to something about your business, you’ve got a WOW Factor!

So, here are a few suggestions to get that WOW thing going in your business operation.

WOW Your Customers

  1. WOW Factor #1: Take the Lead – Innovate new products and services. Add or improve features and benefits. Expand technology. Be the first to market. Disturb the status-quo. Set the de facto standard. Become the best-in-class. Develop a game-changer. Introduce the next big thing. Differentiate yourself from competitors. Dominate your target market. In some way, become a standout!

  2. WOW Factor #2: Become the “Best Deal” – Make your products, services, or customer experience easier, better, faster or cheaper than your competition. Provide superior quality or workmanship, the fastest delivery time, widest product selection, or a legitimate price advantage. Offer exceptional value, the most convenience, or the best guarantee/warranty. Your entire business is your product, and it must shine throughout. When it does, YOU become the “best deal"!

  3. WOW Factor #3: Dazzle the Senses – Create a strong marketing “sensory package.” Engage multiple senses—sight, sound, smell, touch, taste. Become a customer magnet—engaging, fun, entertaining, motivational. Tell relevant humorous or inspirational stories. Tease or arouse curiosity. Champion a cause. Offer a new vision. Be distinctive, thought provoking, dramatic, or even controversial. Razzle-dazzle your customers. Get inside their heads and hearts!

  4. WOW Factor #4: Offer Overwhelming Proof – Take away all doubt about the value or your product or service. Include testimonials, eye-opening case studies, enthusiastic reviews, demonstrations, samples, or no-risk guarantees. Provide statements of authorities, facts, or statistics to prove your claims—the more interesting, shocking, surprising, and compelling your facts and figures, the greater the WOW Factor. Make your case so convincing that the customer’s decision to buy from you is a no-brainer!

  5. WOW Factor #5: Impress with Exceptional Know-how – Preparation, knowledge, expertise and professionalism produce immediate confidence with customers. People want to do business with those they trust—those who inform them, teach them, or take them by the hand and show them exactly what to do. Become the best resource to solve their big problem. Take away their worry or frustration. Make their task easier. Lighten their burdens. Encourage and reassure customers that they have come to the right place.

  6. WOW Factor #6: Give Killer Customer Care – Provide a fast resolution to customer problems. Apply the Golden Rule (treat customers the way you would like to be treated). Go the extra mile. Exhibit a high degree of fairness and integrity. Give the most value you can for every dollar the customer spends. Systemize customer-service processes for consistency and reliability. Deliver on your sales promise, and exceed expectations if possible. Continually seek ways to surprise and delight your customers!

There Is No Other Way

The only way to add a WOW Factor to your business is to incorporate it into a system component or procedure. There is no other way!  So, go ahead and apply some of the suggestions above to boost your business revenue and profit with supercharged business systems.

Next week we're going to apply the WOW Factor to your internal customers, your employees and business processes.

Related Articles:
The WOW Factor: Six "More" Ways to Supercharge Your Business Systems! (Part 2)
Turn Dust-Gathering Procedures into Business Systems that Wow!
Business Systems vs. the Misunderstood Operations Manual
Boost Your Business Profit by Adding the Fun Factor!
Does Your Business Have a Double McTwist 1260?

 

The Next Step...

Tags: Systems Thinker, Business Systems, Marketing Systems, Innovation, Customer Retention

Business Improvement: Eight Questions to Energize Your Team!

Posted byRon Carroll

The Systems Thinker does not always know the right answers, but he or she is one who asks the right questions. Effective questions are the key to problem solving, innovation, and unlocking our full potential. In fact, enlightened questions often point to brilliant solutions.

It takes as much skill to ask the right question as it does to give the right answer!

Ask Good Questions

Good Questions Lead to Improvement

When drilling down on a problem (5-Whys Analysis), or conducting a business improvement workshop, here are a few questions to get people thinking and to energize your team:

  1. What is standing in our way of being a much better company?

  2. What new market opportunities can we exploit? What other business strategies would increase market share and growth?

  3. What does our target market want that they are not currently getting? What innovative products, features, benefits, or services could we add?

  4. How do we plan to get more customers? How can we sell more to each customer (cross-sell or up-sell)? How can we make our customers more aware of all our products and services?

  5. What are our most frequent or challenging customer service questions? What gives our customers the greatest pain or causes the most complaints in doing business with us? How can we give the customer a more pleasurable buying experience? What specifically are we doing to create loyal customers?

  6. How can we provide better quality products or services than our competitors? How can we deliver faster than the market norm? What can we do to reduce cost or give more value to customers than the competition? (see Better, Faster, Cheaper).

  7. What business systems and processes must we excel at? Which process has the most need of improvement? What new system or process would add value to our market and attract more customers? What innovative business system would rock our industry (e.g. FedEx overnight delivery)?

  8. How do we plan to attract the best employees? What can we do to retain loyal people? How do we provide a better place to work? What would help employees become more empowered or productive? (see The Right People)

Good Questions Lead to Profit

Asking questions of customers or employees not only provides valuable information, it shows you have a genuine interest and respect for the opinions and suggestions of others. If you listen carefully, wanting to be taught, people will often reveal ideas that can make your company better and more profitable.

Asking questions is also the best way to teach. In the words of a professional trainer, “To tell is to preach. To ask is to teach.”

Chet HolmesChet Holmes, a well-known marketing and sales teacher who died prematurely, used questions very effectively. Go to THE ZONE and check out his three-page article, “Creating Great Businesses.” Chet gives an example of how he helped one business implement nineteen important improvements, all stemming from a single question.

So, what question would get your team fired-up to make needed improvements?

 

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Tags: Systems Thinker, Business Systems, Improvement, Innovation

Systems Thinking: What We Can Learn from the Legendary MacGyver!

Posted byRon Carroll

From 1985 to 1992, there was a popular television character known as MacGyver. He was a secret agent with a scientific background and an unusual knack for solving urgent and often complex problems with simple everyday materials he found lying around. Of course, he was never without his duct tape and a Swiss Army knife. In every episode, MacGyver would jerry-rig a clever contraption to accomplish his purpose and save the day.

Years later, people still refer to MacGyver when using chewing gum, a paper clip, duct tape, or whatever is simple and handy to solve a pressing problem.

Solve problems like MacGyver

Wallpaper by PhantomBladeV18


A MacGyver Moment

One of my MacGyver moments came when our family moved into a new house that had an unfinished basement. When it began to rain, I was distressed to find water running down one of the inside concrete walls and flooding the basement floor. I grabbed an empty fifty-five-gallon drum left from construction and pushed it against the wall to catch the running water. However, the drum could not sit close enough to prevent the water from running behind it.

I looked around in storage boxes and found an old 16x20 picture with glass in the frame. I removed the glass, set it on top of the barrel rim, and leaned it against the wall. I then applied duct-tape to seal the top edge of the glass and hold it in place. The water cascaded down the wall, hit the glass, and successfully ran into the barrel.  However, within a few hours, the barrel was three-quarters full and too heavy to move... and it was still pouring rain!

From our garden shed, I grabbed an old hose, dropped one end into the bottom of the barrel, and ran the hose out the sliding glass door to a low spot in the backyard. I then sucked on the end of the hose to start a siphon. At that point, the barrel began to empty at about the same rate it was filling. We continued to have torrential rains for three days. However, my little MacGyver water-collection and draining system prevented hundreds of gallons of water from filling the basement.

What Would MacGyver Do?

So, what does this have to do with your business? Keep reading; there’s a message here. But first, let’s look at another example of MacGyver thinking in a business setting.

A toothpaste factory had a problem of sometimes shipping empty boxes—no tube of toothpaste inside. This was due to a minor timing deviation in the mechanical production line that couldn’t easily be controlled in a cost-effective way. Understanding how important it was not to frustrate customers, the company CEO finally decided to hire an engineering company to solve the empty-box problem.

After six months and several hundred-thousand dollars, a solution was in place—on-time and under-budget. The problem was solved by using high-tech precision scales that would sound a bell and flash lights whenever a passing toothpaste box weighed less than it should. The production line would automatically stop while a worker walked over, removed the empty box, and pressed the conveyor restart button. Everyone thought the solution was fantastic.

One day, the CEO decided to look at the return on investment of his project. The results were amazing! No empty boxes ever shipped out of the factory after the scales were put in place. Customers were happy, and the problem was solved. “That was money well spent,” he said, before noticing the other data in the report.

To his surprise, the number of defects picked up by the scales after several months of production was zero. "There should have been at least a dozen a day," he thought. Maybe there was something wrong with the report. After investigating, the information turned out to be correct. The scales really weren't picking up any defects because all boxes that got to that point in the line had toothpaste tubes in them. There were no empty boxes!

Puzzled, the CEO traveled to the factory and went to the production line where the precision scales were installed.

A few feet before the scale, there was a $20 desk fan blowing any empty boxes off the conveyor belt and into a bin.

“Oh, that,” said a nearby worker, “one of the guys put the fan there because he was tired of walking to the scales every time the bell rang.”

Three Lessons Learned

So, what can be learned from these two stories? Here are three takeaways you can apply to your business for better problem solving:

1.     Apply Systems Thinking, a creative—MacGyver like—approach to business problems. (What would MacGyver do?)

2.     Choose the simplest and least-expensive solution that gets the desired results (Ockham’s razor).

3.     Go see the problem first-hand and get input from workers before undertaking any grandiose or expensive solution (Lean Thinking).


Now, put on your MacGyver hat and go save the day!

 

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Tags: Systems Thinker, Innovation, Laws/Principles, System Example

Beyond Business Goals—The Right BHAG Will Catapult Your Company!

Posted byRon Carroll

“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals” (Zig Ziglar).

If your goals don’t challenge you, they won’t change you, and they certainly won’t stretch your team “to dream the impossible dream and reach the unreachable star.” So let’s take a minute to consider the kind of goals that will last beyond a few weeks and elevate your company to remarkable levels of achievement. Let’s create some BHAGs!

So what’s a BHAG you ask (pronounced BEE-hag)? It is a BIG HAIRY AUDACIOUS GOAL, a term discussed by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book “Built to Last.”

Big-Idea

A BHAG is a clear, compelling and overambitious goal that leads a company out of their comfort zone toward accomplishing the impossible. It unites the workforce behind a game-changing idea, worthy of their highest creativity and energy. BHAGs are often long-term and bigger, bolder and more powerful than typical goals. They require commitment, confidence, and even a bit of bravado.

The right BHAG is a lofty vision with a deadline. It will catapult your company to a new plateau.

Jay Arthur of “Lean Six-Sigma” provides an example.

”During the second world war, when cargo ships were at a premium, Liberty ships required almost 250 days to build. As the demand increased, the builders were asked to create ships much faster. Eventually they innovated the design and building of the ship and got the average to 40 days, about 20% of the time it took when they started. This wasn't because of learning gains; it was because the U.S. had a BHAG to build ships much faster. Setting the BHAG demanded that the shipbuilders think differently, organize differently and work differently. It also created a sense of urgency to know that their work was driving the war effort. If it can be done in shipbuilding, it can be done anywhere.”

How to Create a BHAG

The steps to craft an effective BHAG include:

  1. Conceptualize it – Involve key people. Make the goal tangible, innovative, compelling, and even fun. And be sure it’s AUDACIOUS (daring, bold, risky, and practically impossible)!

  2. Test it – Is the BHAG easy to understand, communicate, and remember? Will it stretch people to perform at their best? Is it measurable? Does it have a clear finish line? Is it life changing? Will the effort be worth it?

  3. Commit to it – Get everyone in your company behind the goal. Talk about it at your power meetings. Encourage thinking and working differently. Measure and report progress. Celebrate victories. Make it part of your business culture.

  4. Systemize it — Break the BHAG down into smaller chunks or mini-goals, and then incorporate them into specific and measurable business systems (the Box Theory™ Way). Goals are only fantasy—wishful thinking—until you build them into a system or process, until the wheels of Cause and Effect start turning.

Incorporate the mini-BHAGs into your Balanced Scorecard objectives and key measures. For example, set big hairy audacious goals to increase sales per employee by 20% (productivity), reduce mistakes, defects and rework by 50% (quality), or improve on-time delivery to 99% (customer service). Reduce lead time (from order to shipping) to twenty-four hours, and so forth.

I am familiar with a builder who constructed a standard house in twenty-four hours. Now that’s a BHAG! It required different thinking, planning, and working. It was a marvel to watch. It shook the local building industry. It distinguished him from all other home builders.

Stop doing business as usual—like every other company—and “dare to be great.” Develop extraordinary goals supported by extraordinary business systems and processes. The most difficult step is the first one. Get going today. Demand immediate results. Stay the course. Seek continuous improvement. It takes time, but I promise, it will be worth it!

"Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work." (Daniel H. Burnham, American Architect, master planner of Chicago and Washington D.C)

Now, what big plans could you implement in the next three to six months that would elevate your company—that would expand or improve products, open new markets, provide “killer customer care”, or drastically reduce waste, inefficiency and cost?

As the saying goes, “GO BHAG OR GO HOME!”

 

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Tags: Business Systems, General Business, Innovation, Business Leader

The Art and Science of Creating Exceptional Business Systems!

Posted byRon Carroll

Did you realize when you got into business that your primary purpose is to be a “business engineer”—one who plans, constructs, and shrewdly manages an organization (online dictionary)? Your daily task is to develop people, products, and processes in an exceptional way to profitably find and serve customers.  

Like fingerprints and snowflakes, there are no two businesses exactly alike. Each is a unique reflection of its owners and managers—YOU and your team!

Businesses are like Snowflakes

An engineer uses technical skills coupled with imagination and creativity to produce something of lasting value. Likewise, you are the mad genius who will create a business model that provides the products and services uniquely suited to your target market—a business so well executed that you can one day sell it for top dollar, replicate it in other markets, or have someone run it for you.

Your entire organization is made of interdependent systems and processes, each working together to accomplish your business objectives. In a typical day, you design, develop, oversee, monitor, and evaluate all the systems and processes that make your organization run smoothly, create value, and generate a profit.

Growing a good business is both an art and a science.

Art and Science

The art of business development is to create products and services that provide the best solution for your customers, and to develop an organization structure and culture that help your people reach their full potential. You are constantly innovating to make people, products and processes better, faster, stronger, more efficient, of greater value, and more remarkable than ever before.

While innovation can be a new invention, technology, or business concept, most often it will consist of incremental improvements at the detail level of your business systems and processes. It is this right-brain activity that gives your organization a different fingerprint than all others—what separates you from the crowd. In time, your business can become an inspired masterpiece!

The science of business development is the application of laws, principles and best practices to attain predictable and consistent results. It includes the Law of Cause and Effect, improvement methodologies such as Six Sigma, Lean Thinking and the Theory of Constraints, performance standards, measurement, and other means for achieving operational excellence.

This disciplined and systematic approach comes primarily from the left-brain, and it is what your business has in common with other successful organizations—what enables you to efficiently produce quality products and services, please customers, and earn a healthy financial return.

Teamwork

Most people do not excel at both left-brain and right-brain activities. However, if you bring a team of people—with a variety of skills and talents—into weekly business improvement workshops, you will uncover the best ideas and solutions for your organization (consider this whiteboard method).

Your goal is to attract and keep customers by creating a company that is brilliantly distinctive and operationally exceptional. Attention to your core business systems and processes can make that happen and give you a memorable brand.

 

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Tags: Business Systems, General Business, Innovation, Laws/Principles