“The greatest success stories were created by people who recognized a problem and turned it into an opportunity.”
– Joseph Sugarman
When we first start doing something and it works, we tend to repeat it until it becomes a routine habit. Something we don’t even have to think about. Tried and true. Predictable. Do A, get B, right? The thing is, repeating the same pattern over and over again tends to give us tunnel vision. We don’t see anything else except what we’re doing. We lose perspective. We hear people like Tony Robbins tell us if we always do what we’ve always done, we’re gonna get what we’ve always got, which implies that we need to change something. Since what we have seems to work just fine that doesn’t apply to us. We tell ourselves, ‘If it isn’t broken, don’t mess with it.’ Sound familiar?
Here’s the story. It involves Bob, who was a client of mine several years ago. He called a while back and explained his situation. He was perfectly situated for growth, did the math, and put the wheels in motion to make that happen; but the results had the potential to cause his demise. He was too close to the problem to get a handle on why it happened and how to fix it. He wanted an impartial opinion to help him psych it through.
Business was better than good. In fact, it was growing. He had a good solid product that served a definite need. In fact, because it had done so well, he had the bandwidth to actually hire an extra hand to handle sales, which allowed him to spend more time in the office planning growth strategies. He promoted a product specialist to customer service manager, as well as a senior team member (who also doubled in customer service) to fill the now vacant product specialist position.
Then one day he took a look at the receipts from last quarter, and was stunned that business had dropped dramatically. It was then, that he became aware that the phone wasn’t ringing as much as it used to and his employees seemed to have more time on their hands. He still used his magic formula – do A, get B. But now he wasn’t getting B. With luck, he got C or G. With no luck, he got a big Z (zilch).
What went wrong and how could he fix it?
From my perspective, it was obvious that although his product was viable, the company dynamic had shifted. So I suggested we look first at what made the company successful in the first place and see what may have changed. For me, that’s the first rule of order: If it’s not the product, look to yourself.
- Bob was definitely a people person who loved what he did. Whether networking or out selling he had a way of finding the need for his services and conveying his passion in such a way that it spelled ‘trust’ as soon as you met him. Now that he spent far less time in the field and circulating among his peers, his lack of presence left a gap in his company persona. The new guy, was a good salesman, but lacked the passion for the product that can only come from knowing it well.
- The new customer service manager knew everything there was to know about the product. Bob thought she would be a natural in that position. The problem was that as a product specialist she worked primarily with clients who understood the functionality and product lingo and now she was dealing directly with the end user who simply wanted their issues resolved and not an explanation of why it does what it does.
- The new product specialist really needs to be focused on the product functionality and his work is pretty much self-contained to his small office. He appreciated the people contact he had when he had a dual position and found both his enthusiasm and his creativity dwindling without the feedback he received from customers. It was exactly that feedback that inspired him to bring fresh and sometimes even innovative solutions to both the customer and Bob.
Clearly, Bob’s case typifies what many small business owners encounter when they begin to plan for growth. But sometimes when we look at the big picture and plan for what we think will be positive change, we’re often blindsided by the obvious and lose perspective. While you may have had all the right people in the right seats on the right bus to begin with, they may no longer be where they need to be to sustain growth.
Everyone, including you, needs to sit in seats that allow skills and talents to shine, and that capitalizes on the culture and value that was the basis of your success. It’s important for both your own satisfaction but for the satisfaction of your employees and your customers.
In Bob’s case:
- He went back to selling and networking – but with a difference. He has an assistant now to do the paperwork and follow up and always makes it a point to be present during all installations.
- The new Customer Service manager now manages Product Support, where her understanding of technical specifications and details are important to the business users understanding of functionality. She also works with them to triage issues.
- The Product Support manager is now Customer Service Manager and his combination of people skills and product knowledge has resulted in both happier customers and innovative ideas for the company based on user feedback.
- And the newly hired sales rep? He’s doing a couple of things right now. He’s sitting with the product specialist and wrapping his arms around the intricacies of the product and picking up some of her enthusiasm. He’s also working with Bob, who takes him along on sales calls and lets him write up the contracts when they get back to the office.
Change happens – but when we think about it, some of it is predictable. It all comes back to you. Stepping back provides the opportunity to see things from a different perspective, and that perspective provides us with the objectivity to find solutions that breed success not only for ourselves, but for our employees and customers. After all, that’s what it’s all about.