Keys To Trade Show Success

I recently spoke at the IMTS Exhibitor workshop. After my speech, I was interviewed on IMTS TV about improving your success at trade shows.

You can watch the 8 minute interview.


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Find Out How Your Customers Really Feel

bathroomsurveyCustomer surveys range from the simple Ultimate Question, to highly in-depth, multi-question surveys. The validity of any of these approaches is suspect. Just like political surveys are proving inaccurate much of the time, customer surveys are likewise. If you want valid customer feedback, what might you do?

Many types of unobtrusive observational techniques are being developed, and “experts” don’t lack for opinions. The issue is getting the “truth” from a valid sample. As we know, the valid sample is the tough part, especially when those who love you and those who hate you are the most likely respondents; and they don’t represent the majority of the customer base. And, of course, their average is meaningless.

I have seen now two effective approaches. The first is pictured above. It was placed outside the public restroom at an airport I recently visited. Simple, quick, timely feedback that is easy to understand. While I have no idea how many responses they get, I suspect it is meaningful.

The other one I saw a several years ago in a fast food restaurant. After you ordered your food, the only way you could turn to exit the line/counter was in the direction of a wall. On the wall was a red phone. A sign above the phone read: “This phone is connected to the owner. If there is something I should know about your experience today, please pick up the phone and tell me.”

Sometimes simple feedback is the best feedback.


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Brick and Mortar Suicide Continues … Unabated

loweslogoThis topic is, unfortunately, a common theme for me (just do a search of the blog). It seems retailers have become so focused on getting better deals from their suppliers that they are forgetting that if they don’t actually sell something, those deals won’t matter.

Last night we went to Lowe’s to buy a new dishwasher. Yes, we went to buy one. Didn’t, but wanted to. Why didn’t we buy one? They had plenty on display; lots of options; good prices; delivery and installation; remove and take away our old one. Trouble was they didn’t have anybody to sell us one.

Yep, nobody staffed the appliance department. Lowe’s has a clever device that if you need help in a department and no one is there, you can push a button and an associate will show up. Did that about 10 times, nobody showed up. I finally went up front to ask and was told the appliance person was on “dinner break” for at least another 30 minutes. Seriously. So, no store manager or assistant manager to back that person up? Guess not. We left. During our 20 minutes in the department I saw at least 15 other people looking. Not sure they were there to buy, but they certainly were shopping.

The one good thing that came out of the adventure is that we had to drive by Cold Stone on the way home, so I bought some ice cream. Not a totally wasted trip.

Seriously Lowe’s, maybe if you spent less time hammering your manufacturers and more time running retail stores well, you’d make more money and have less “reason” to whine about the online merchants “stealing” your business. Stealing isn’t necessary when you simply give it away. What exactly are you “improving” these days?


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Now, That’s How It’s Done

siriuslogoLast year I posted about Hertz’s campaign to get you to rent cars with Sirius XM radio when they can’t determine how to offer it consistently. That situation has not changed. They still promote it, and they still can’t be sure it is active in the car. Frustrating.

Turns out National Car Rental has solved the problem. Not sure why Hertz can’t solve it the same way, but then that’s not really my problem. How does National solve it? Simple, grab a car from the Emerald Aisle with Sirius radio installed. Upon leaving the lot, they will activate the Sirius radio in your car. 5-10 minutes later (max) you have active Sirius XM. Simple, smart and customer focused.

My only issue with National on this whole approach is that they don’t tell you that’s how it works unless you ask.


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What Does Most Admired Really Mean?

There are any number of “most admired” lists published each year. Some are bogus, others seem to be legit. However, what do they tell us? Perhaps that even professionals who “vote” in such polls can be easily fooled.

Three recent examples come to light:

  1. In September of 2015 Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) proclaimed Volkswagen the “world’s most sustainable car company.” Some skeptics might suggest that is not a high bar, but it was given full marks for codes of conduct, compliance, anti-corruption, innovation management and climate strategy. About 10 days after the award was given the truth came out.
  2. In early 2015 Chipotle was named one of Fortune‘s World’s Most Admired top 50 All-Stars. Admiration was measured by quality of products, innovativeness, social responsibility and long-term investment value among other criteria. They were given more kudos by Fortune in November for their focus on animal welfare in suspending one of its suppliers. While commendable, perhaps they were focused on the wrong things given the e-coli outbreak that has destroyed a substantial part of their business.
  3. Just a few days ago Fortune named Monsanto one of the world’s most admired companies. A cursory review of media in the US would question that position.

Perhaps it’s time again for companies (and the media) to focus attention on how well customers are served by a company rather than how well their peers feel about them. Sort of like the Oscars where films liked by other actors and often ignored by the public win awards.


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The Airbnb/Uber Model Comes to Beer … Kinda

tavourlogoA newish company, Tavour, in Seattle has created a service to offer unique, hard to find, not well-known, new to the market, etc. craft beers to people who do care, or should care. They search out unique beers they feel meet their customers’ standards and then offer them to their customers.

They use a push marketing program (opt in) to alert their customers to new “finds.” Customers then decide if it is right for them and place an order. Once a month (or so) Tavour delivers the selected beers to their customers. Shipping is a flat fee of about $15.

Seems like a cool program and targeted business model. My only real beef with them is that somebody who believes in push/intrusive/in your face marketing convinced them to create an annoying drop down sign-up box on their home page that you cannot make go away. Thus you have to sign up to learn more, or look around other pages of their website.

Didn’t leave me with a good feeling. And maybe that’s just me.


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A 6-Step Plan For Increased Competitive Advantage

If you a running a competitive business these days, you already have world-class operations (if you didn’t, you’d be out of business or on the short path there to.) That is, you have already applied process technology and process management to your operations. That’s the good news. The bad news? So have your competitors. (They wouldn’t be serious competitors if they hadn’t.)

Now here’s the thing about process-managed, world-class operations: with few exceptions they can be outsourced; they can be bought off-the-shelf. The very fact that they are definable and describable in detail means that they can be replicated … elsewhere. And, because they are out-sourceable, they are not really part of your core raison d’etre; in other words, they add no value that others don’t also offer. They are not required to “play” and are not a source of competitive advantage.

What does an enterprise really do? How does it really add value? What is the sine qua non, the raison d’etre, of any enterprise? It is this: to align the needs of the market with the capabilities of the enterprise. To do this, the management of the enterprise causes resources (financial, human, and physical) to come together in a way that satisfies a particular set of market needs. And to do this, management does six things that cannot be outsourced, that add the real value of the enterprise.

1) Understand the market. Without a serious, in-depth understanding of the market, there can obviously be no way to know where the opportunities in it are … except by luck, which is hardly reliable. There are 200+ elements about your market itself your competitors, your product/service alternatives, your customers, your channels and your political, social, and environmental market factors. You must know them, and be able to predict each of them at least one product/service development cycle into the future. And, of course, this data has to be analyzed to extract information from it.

2) Use the data to pick opportunities If you have a complete set of market data and it’s analyzed appropriately, much of the work involved in making good market opportunity investment decisions is fairly straight-forward. Of course, there’s always a need for the insight that comes from talent and experience, but at least you won’t be arguing about something that you could have had real data on.

3) Get marketing deeply involved with product/service development As a competitive enterprise, you already have a world-class product/service development process. But chances are the people who deeply understand — and continuously track — market needs aren’t providing the input that intelligent product/service development stage or gate decisions need. These marketing (or product management) people will need the data collected in step one, and will have to continue to track it.

4) Align the downstream sales and promotion organizations with product/service development Properly developed products (or services) will dovetail with the product’s promotional and sales plans and resources. Effectively sold products have to be so dovetailed.

5) Treat the whole thing as a single process. Market understanding, opportunity identification, product development, and sales/promotion need to be a single, interlinked process with elements feeding back to upstream elements. Put the process in place.

6) Manage by process principles Your core enterprise activity, as described above, is the process of aligning the market’s needs with your enterprise’s capabilities. Because it’s a process, it can me managed by time-proven process management principles: continuous improvement, lean thinking, and constraint analysis.

See how easy it is … to explain anyway.

Ralph & Mitch

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