Don’t Let Fear of Failure Stop You from Growing Your Business

LEAVE YOUR COMFORT ZONE FOR BOLD REQUESTS

I believe that people must periodically step outside of their comfort zone to grow as a company and a person. In fact, as you do this, you will discover that your comfort zone expands. Doing this will empower you to request bold things that may elicit comments from your peers and associates like “outrageous, overreach, impossible.” You can overcome these naysayers and your own inclination of fearing failure by your preparation for this bold request, which I like to call The Ask. Acquiring intense knowledge of the person you are asking and their company, industry, and needs are what I mean by preparation. This knowledge will allow you to offer something of value to induce the granting of your bold request.

I would like to offer you a personal experience to illustrate this concept. In this experience, my bold request was to:

Get magicians to give demonstrations in J.C. Penney stores around the country, for free

The circumstances that led to THE ASK were: my company, Reiss Games, successfully developed and marketed a line of packaged magic kits; and the ambitious and bright buyer at J.C. Penney, after an initial year of success, asked me to provide live demos in his stores. He further explained that we needed to bear the cost of this promotion. We declined the opportunity to become poor. However, we put our brainpower into overdrive to see how we could satisfy this important customer in an affordable way.

My knowledge in this instance was

  • There was a society of magicians with 10,000 members, and they had to demonstrate a skill level to be admitted.
  • Very few magicians made a living at magic.
  • Applause and recognition are two key motivators for magicians.
  • There was a National Magic Week every October to celebrate Harry Houdini and perpetuate the art of magic by magicians performing in hospitals, nursing homes, and other venues. However, they basically performed in obscurity.
  • The inner workings of J.C. Penney particularly how the Public Relations Department worked and that they had an independent budget.
  • Most of my knowledge emanated from my relationship with George Schindler, a past president of the Society, a well known magician, a magic instructor whose classes I attended and who we hired to help develop our magic line and perform in our key customers’ stores. My Penney knowledge came from years of selling them and always asking lots of questions at every level.

My offer to get my BOLD REQUEST (BIG ASK) was:

For the Magicians’ Society

  • To get J.C. Penney to advertise in local papers where magicians would perform.
  • The ads would announce National Magic Week, the dates and times of performances and the name and picture of the performing magician.

For J.C.Penney

Magic demonstrations in J.C. Penney stores around the country at no cost to them which brought them additional sales and store traffic.

How this came about

I asked George Schindler to set up a meeting for me with the President of the Society of Magicians to get his magicians to perform in Penney stores during National Magic Week for free. In return Penney would pay for ads promoting National Magic Week and local magicians. The president liked the idea but could not commit for the magicians. However, he offered to let me ask them at their national convention in Miami Beach in February. I did that and emphasized that we could not pay them. The response was amazing. They queued up in a long line after the meeting to sign up.

Before I went to the convention, I told the J.C. Penney buyer of my plan and that his part of the bargain was to pay for the ads. As his budget was strained, I suggested we go to the Penney head of Public Relations to sell him on the event and loosen up his purse strings. The PR head liked the idea so much that he suggested he accompany me to the Miami Beach convention. (I assume that the fact that this meant a few days in Miami Beach and away from New York in February had some bearing on the decision.)

This turned out to be a win-win for all parties. J.C. Penney, The Society of American Magicians, Performing Magicians, and us.

I know many of you are hesitant to make these types of bold requests. Look at it this way; if the person gives you a “no,” what is lost? Nothing. And I promise your bruised ego will heal. To grow you must be willing to risk rejection. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure. You are learning for the next ask—the successful ask—and your stake holders will admire your grit.

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WHEN to SAY NO to a CUSTOMER

They’re your business’s lifeblood, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a push over.

All customers, especially buyers in business-to-business transactions, have a responsibility to their pocketbook, which you, as the provider of services or goods, need to understand. The customer’s goal is to get the best deal they can. In pursuing their agenda, customers may cajole push or even demand the best deal possible. Sellers shouldn’t take this personally. The customer is only doing his job.

But, as important as it is to satisfy your customers, there are times when the right thing to do is to say no. Here are some examples:

1.    When a Customer Wants an Unreasonable Discount 
– If you drop your price or give major concessions just because a large buyer pushes you, they will not accept your deal the next time around as you’ve taught them to never accept the first offer. Also, you have a duty to protect your other customers, and make sure they are not penalized for not pushing you as hard.

 There are times when you need a particular customer or order. However, you should not succumb to the pressure of giving a better deal unless you get something in return, like a bigger order, better payment terms, free advertising, etc. If you don’t, then no is in order.

2.    When a Customer Wants Inside Info on Competitors — 
When a big customer presses you for proprietary information about another one of your accounts, you must decline this trap. Try saying something like, “it’s not the right thing to do, just as I wouldn’t tell them about my dealings with you.” It can be difficult to say no to an important customer; but this is important because if you spill the beans on his competitor, he won’t trust you to keep his dealings with you confidential. If trust is broken, growth will be inhibited

3.    When a Customer is Rude 
– When a customer is nasty and rude to any of your employees, it can be a problem for you. The nastiness may take the form of unwanted sexual advances, screaming, cursing or belittling; whatever the circumstances, I believe managers need to confront this type of customer and explain that they must modify their behavior. If this doesn’t work, drop that customer. It will do wonders for the spirit, pride and productivity of your employees.

4.    When a Customer Asks for Payoff in Kind — 
When a buyer asks for a payoff in cash or kind, this is over the line in my opinion. Many like to justify this by saying “everyone else is doing it.” Aside from it being wrong, think of the consequences if it ever became public knowledge that you were a briber, or open to bribes. There goes your reputation with family, employees, friends, investors, customers, et al.

5.    When a Customer Breaks an Agreement 
– When a customer breaks an agreement, you need to hold them to it unless they have a good reason. One broken agreement will lead to others, and the result is an unprofitable client on your books. This is not to suggest you shouldn’t help a deserving customer with a problem. If they have a good history with you, if they explain their problem and ask (no demands) for your help, and if it’s within your ability to do so, I say don’t hesitate. We’ve all had occasion to work out payment plans for good customers who are experiencing cash shortages. I’ve let clients set up a schedule of repayments, most of the time it has worked well, and I wound up with a long-time loyal customer. But if you’re losing money and you can’t revise price, servicing, or other costs to make this a profitable account, or if there is not a strategic reason to keep the customer, you should just say no.

Most of the time, customers know that your no was the right thing, even if they didn’t get their way, and they will respect you for it. There is value in saying no to customers.     (It’s also a good word in parenting.)

This is my August column in Entrepreneur.

WHEN HIRING A CONSULTANT, BEWARE OF . . . .

At some point in the growth or even start-up of your company, you may want to hire a consultant to educate or guide you. You may rightly want the consultant for their expertise in myriad disciplines like advertising, management, a specific industry, social media, branding, etc.

No matter what purpose, the major thing to be aware of in hiring is to make sure that the person you interview will be the one you will be working with. Often, the person you interview will be a senior member of the firm with excellent sales skills. However the person who will be doing the job for you will be a newer hire with less experience and one whose chemistry doesn’t suit you. There is nothing wrong with meeting with that senior member as long as you also have an in- depth discussion with the firm member who will be doing the work. This also applies when hiring a lawyer, accountant, or other professional.

It is very common for consulting firms to send out their best salesman to secure the account and then later figure out who will do the work. This could be okay, but many times you will be disappointed and out a chunk of cash.

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