Serving Existing Customers Better


A Client Phone Conversation About Selling, Manipulation & The Importance Of A Customer Base #4061


It was a 90 minute conversation where I asked to record my side of the conversation for possible publication. The reason? We were discussing sales philosophy and how that might impact strategy, execution and building a business to reach higher levels of success.

Some hi-lights of the conversation and other key points:

Don’t lean toward manipulation. Instead, serve!

Being transaction oriented  and go for short-term profit, or avoid that and look for the long-term play.

You can go all in on trying to manipulate or you can go all in on watching what customers want/need. Pay attention to behavior or try to change behavior — it’s smarter and more profitable to pay attention to it and then react accordingly.

Do right by the customer.

Be good. Improve. Make your offer as good as you can make it, but don’t confuse things thinking if you build a better mousetrap that your sales challenges will be fixed.

Visibility precedes understanding. And after understanding there has to be appreciation. Without appreciation there is no sale.

You have to get known (visibility) first. Then you have to teach or show people so they know what you’re offering (understanding). But that doesn’t mean they’ll see the value (appreciation).

Long-term thinking fosters long-term behavior. It impacts every facet of your business. By doing the right thing now you build experience (and higher determination) to continue to do the right thing.

The competitive edge is patience for the long-term outcome. Sometimes it’s a lack of optimism that causes people to take the short-term payoff.

Bula Network Owners’ Alliance – how I’m approaching selling this

Too many business owners focus solely on the first of my trifecta of business building: getting new customers!

Too few give any attention to the second one: serving existing customers better! And that explains why so many suffer defeat on the 3rd one: not going crazy in the process.

Once we get the customer’s money we then neglect them. I don’t get it.

Customer base is everything! Every business needs a rock solid customer base.

You can’t sell your way out of a problem by merely being transactional. Sometimes it’s a motivation problem — business owners are driven more by their own needs, than the needs of their customers.

The average person on Twitter has 208 followers. My guess was a “few hundred.”

The average person on Linkedin has 930 connections. My guess was 500.

Let me know what you think of today’s show.

Subscribe to the podcast

bula network podcast on itunesTo subscribe, please use the links below:

If you have a chance, please leave me an honest rating and review on iTunes by clicking Review on iTunes. It’ll help the show rank better in iTunes.

Thank you!

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Quadrant 1: The Trifecta Of Business Building #4040 - GROW GREAT Podcast with Randy Cantrell

Quadrant 1: The Trifecta Of Business Building #4040

Quadrant 1: The Trifecta Of Business Building #4040 - GROW GREAT Podcast with Randy Cantrell

Getting new clients or customers is listed first because until that happens, you don’t have a business. Or an organization. Maybe you don’t call them clients or customers. You might be a non-profit, a local government, or a some other service organization that isn’t directly involved in commerce. No matter…there are people you serve. People who have an expectation of you and your organization. If you don’t serve anybody, then I don’t know why you’d exist. So, first things first.

You Gotta Serve Somebody

Bob Dylan released a song by that title many years ago. It had a religious overtone. Spiritually, service is everything. Namely, serving God. In business, service is also everything. Namely, having a target audience we can serve.

There are 2 critical elements of this. One, we have to take aim at a specific group to serve. These are people who are most benefited by what we have to offer. Two, we have to take aim at a group that is willing to pay for our service (or product). That means they have to see value in what we do.

We can’t get it half right. There are many groups out there who may need what you have. In fact, they might desperately need it. But what if they don’t recognize the need? Or understand the need? No sale. Try as you might, they’ll never buy from you because they don’t know they need what you’ve got.

When you enter quadrant 1 you have to take care to aim at a group that has a need, knows and understands that need, and has the ability to see that you provide a valued solution. Identification is only the beginning. You really need to vet the group by knowing the people. The more, the better.

Marketers latch onto the practice of building an avatar. Of course, avatar is a modern term that started out being called a profile. They mean the same thing. The FBI has profilers who do for crime what marketers do for business. They create a specific profile for the ideal person likely perpetrating the crime. Marketers create a profile for the ideal person likely to buy.

With all the focus on the tactical work of creating a great profile some marketers get too focused on themselves. They approach this work – the work of getting a new customer – without heart. It’s all data and analytical without enough emotion. For good reason. We have more data on buyers than we’ve ever had before. Data is good. The more the better — except when it screams for 100% of the attention without considering the motivations of buyers. Data can have an adverse effect by making marketers focus too much on it and not enough on human emotions like desires, fears, pleasure and pain.

The most ancient marketing truth may be that people buy on emotion and justify it after the fact with logic. It’s a big generalization with varying degrees of accuracy. Some buyers are more emotional than others. Others are far more logical than emotional.

Buyers don’t all come from the same place emotionally, logically, financially or in any other area you can imagine. A buyer without financial concerns, one who has more money than they need, can behave as though they’re on their last nickel. Another buyer with very limited resources can behave as though money is no object. And that is why marketing is hard…and why people and companies pay big money for marketing help.

Marketing is part science and part art. The art part is harder. Anybody can do the science part. It requires heightened intuition, empathy and vision to execute effective marketing. It’s an imperfect craft. Ask anybody who figured out a great marketing strategy that brought in lots of prospects. At some point that brilliant strategy stopped working. Or it stopped working as well. Even Dos Equis replaced “the most interesting man in the world.”

Effective marketing is more like skeet shooting than fixed target shooting.

It’s hard to focus – and keep that focus – on the people you’re trying to serve. You bring your own motivations. They include your desires, fears, pains and pleasures. But your prospects and buyers don’t care about yours. They’ve got their own. It requires a special kind of discipline to get out of your own head and into the head of prospects. Then, to stay there.

The psychology of marketing – attracting new clients – is dynamic. Look at your own life. I know it sometimes feels like you’re living a real-life version of Groundhog Day, but you aren’t. Your moods and feelings ebb and flow. Along with your optimism and fears. Life impacts all of us every single day. Your prospects live the same way. Some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you. That old phrase just speaks to the bi-polar nature of all our lives.

That also speaks to why our marketing can never stop. You never know the timing of your offer. Right now – at this very moment – let’s assume the tires on your car are perfect. You’re not thinking about tires. Any marketing by tire retailers or manufacturers is going right over your head. Later today, you’re on the freeway and have a blow out. It wrecks your day, hacks you off. But suddenly, you’re now in the market for a tire – maybe a whole set. It happened suddenly, unexpectedly. If there’s a tire retailer who has achieved some top of mind status with you through their persistent and consistent marketing, then they’re likely to be your first call. Maybe your only call.

Buyers buy on their timetable, not yours. Your need for a sale doesn’t matter. It’s all about what your prospect wants and needs. And like skeet shooting, you don’t know where they’re at…at the very moment they need you the most. When they’re ready to buy, they’re ready to buy. Or at least ready to consider buying.

Do you attract clients by focusing on their pain or pleasure? Do you pander to their fears or their hopes? Yes. And yes. That’s why marketing is hard. You have to create messages that appeal to your ideal prospects. Ideal is optimal. It doesn’t mean you won’t sell to some prospects who aren’t ideal. Think of it like fishing for large mouth bass. That’s ideal. It’s the aim. But if you snag a 10 pound catfish…you’re going to eat him for supper. You weren’t trying to land him, but he liked your offer and took it. You decided to keep him. At the other end of the deal, you could snag a carp. You don’t want him. He goes back into the water. That’s how marketing works. Sometimes you get a happy accident – a client you weren’t really aiming at, but you attracted them anyway. You keep them. Sometimes you get a not-so-happy accident – a client you weren’t aiming at, and one you’d rather not have. You walk away (hint: maybe it’s ideal for you to best serve them by finding them a more suitable solution).

So how do we get new customers?

It’s not difficult to dissect the process. Execution…that’s what’s really hard.

Identify your ideal customer. Dig deep and figure out the emotions, not just the data points. Part of identification is figuring how where they are and how to best reach them. Again, not always easy. And it’s not always where you may first think. Spend some time on this. It’s important.

Craft your offer with the client in mind. Sure, it may be best to craft an offer people want. You hear it constantly with online advice. “Give your customers what they ask for.” But what if you don’t yet have customers? Or what if you’re unhappy with the present flow of customers? What do you do when your customers don’t even know what they want? (Apple invested the iPod. Customers weren’t asking for it. Most consumers couldn’t imagine carrying around hours of music on a small digital device.)

Customers are created when you can find the sweet spot of what people want/need enough that they’ll pay for it. And pay enough to make it sustainable. Would more people buy Apple products if they were 30% cheaper? Sure, but it would wreck Apple’s profit margin and Apple would stop being the highly sophisticated design company they are. In short, Apple wouldn’t be Apple.

It’s a lot of hard work best summed up in the phrase, “figuring it out.” Whether you’re a stand up comedian or a manufacturer…you need paying customers. Financial support is the most critical component of successful business building. No customers, no business. No revenue, no business. This is no time for weepy romanticism. It’s time for facing the practical realities of the market, that collective power that will determine the winners and the losers.

Once you get them to buy the real work begins.

Now, you must deliver. Well, to be clear, if you’re operating with integrity you must deliver. Thanks to the power of the Internet we see people and companies who devote all their time to “top of the funnel” activities. They focus solely on getting new customers. These are transactional focused marketers who don’t care so much about the customer experience. Or about repeat business. Some pursue as much revenue generation as possible to exploit a moment, knowing it will go cold. It’s that old adage of “making hay while the sun shines.” The sun sometimes shines and may give us a “Pet Rock” moment. It doesn’t last, but it’s good while it does. I’m not talking about that kind of business model.

My clients – and hopefully yours – are people and companies we want to serve well. We want them to be happy, not merely satisfied with our work for them. We want them to say good things about us. We want their repeat business and we’d like them to give us referrals. In short, we want to build the strongest customer base possible. So we focus heavily on serving our clients better. This is mostly, but not entirely an operational thing. It’s the HOW we do things.

Too frequently I see companies get this wrong because they can’t (or won’t) maintain focus on the client. Systems and work flows are put into place because they best serve US, not because they enhance the client’s experience. Perhaps the most classic example of this is the airline industry. While there are government regulations in play, an awful lot of what happens with flyers has little or nothing to do with regulations, but everything to do with how the airline is benefited. Often times at the expense of their paying customers. It’s so rampantly bad, customers have been conditioned and trained to accept poor service as standard. We don’t want to follow their example.

Amazon has become the poster child for superior service – not by accident, but by design. Millions of dollars are spent each year by Amazon finding out how customers respond, how customers behave, what customers prefer and delivering an experience that has come to be so utterly painless (and pleasurable) they can consistently produce double digit increases in revenues (year over year). That’s no small feat when you’re a multi-billion dollar company. It’s easy to double your business if you’re generating $250,00 in gross revenue (maybe). Not so easy when your existing number is insanely large, like Amazon.

How do they do it? By being focused on YOU, the buyer. Your shopping and buying experience at Amazon is easy. Who started the “one click” purchase? Amazon. I rest my case.

How easy are you to do business with? Do you focus on how the customer feels and perceives the process? Or do you focus on making it easy on yourself?

I’m betting if you took a hard look at your systems and processes you’d find some (perhaps many) of them cumbersome to the customer. Stop it. Remove the hurdles from the path of your customers. Make your company easy to do business with. Make the experience not just pain-free, but pleasurable for the customer.


It’s not just a song by Patsy Cline and Gnarls Barkley (yeah, different songs…same title). It’s YOU when things aren’t going so well. It’s YOU when getting new clients isn’t happening, or when existing clients are complaining. It’s also YOU when things at home aren’t right (nothing to do with business). Welcome to the Human Race where problems and obstacles pop up like a whack-a-mole game!

Keeping your sanity is a big part of effective business building. Watch an NFL game, especially this time of year when playoff positions are at stake. It won’t matter if it’s a quarterback or some other position, from the most regarded position to the least regarded, you may see a player – keep in mind, all these guys are world-class or they wouldn’t be playing – lose his mind. Sideline fits get pitched. Helmets get thrown. Water trays get knocked over. All because world-class, professional athletes have, in a moment, lost their mind.

In that state, are they able to perform at their best? NO. Never. They have to rein in their emotions. They have to get a better gripe on themselves. Some do. Some don’t. Those who don’t, end up making things worse. Those who do, often aren’t able – at least in that game – to make meaningful contributions. The distraction of going crazy took a toll robbing them of the chance for success. It’ll happen to you, too.

For you it may not look like a temper tantrum. Or it may.

Maybe it’s just a funk. Caused by something at work. Or not. No matter, you’re in a mood. Preoccupied. Worried. Fretful. Anxious. Sad. Gloomy. Attach whatever word that best describes it at the time. And these aren’t binary things. Every color of the rainbow can happen. Today’s purple is tomorrow’s red. So it goes with our feelings and emotions. Crazy.

Crazy isn’t a clinical diagnosis. It’s purely man-on-the-street kind of talk. We all experience it at various times. It’s not a state from which growth can occur, but it is a state from which our response can spur growth. How we respond to our own crazy matters.

First, we have to recognize it and understand the source. No proper response can be executed if we don’t understand why we’re going crazy.

Second, we have to craft the best response to the source. Address the cause – the source – and you’ll likely remedy the manifestation of your crazy. Now if you’re hot headed, stop it. You need to exercise better self-control. Your bad temper is completely preventable and I don’t care what you think the cause it, it’s a problem. Blowing up isn’t a valid or valuable response, even if you do think it’s justified. You’re wrong. Pitching a wall-eyed fit every time something goes wrong isn’t leadership. It’s childish and will cost you. Well placed anger on the other hand, used in proper context (even for theatrical purposes) can be most effective. One is mindless. The other is mindful. There’s a big difference!

Get in full touch with the source of your craziness. Figure out what you can do to alter your response to it. Maybe it’s something you have no power over – the source, that is. Fine, figure out the best methodology of dealing with it. Harold Geneen said, “Managers must manage.” Figure it out. Find a way.

Third, learn from it. Stop being reactionary with knee-jerk emotional responses. Sure, it happens. But don’t let that define your leadership. Make those exceptions to the rule of being level-headed and thoughtful.

My desire for you – just like all my clients – is to help you keep all three legs on the floor at all times. It’s almost impossible to do, but you should try. When all three legs are solidly on the floor, you’ve got major traction and success. When one legs comes up off the floor, recognize it quickly. One inch off the floor is very different than six inches. Catch it early and try to course correct by getting it back on the ground as soon as possible.

When two legs come off the floor you’re in trouble. Don’t panic, but get one of them on the ground fast. Business building is about maintaining stability. Don’t over-complicate things. Address things. Face them. Deal with them in positive ways. Work harder to fix what ails you so you can move on beyond old, recurring problems.

The most you can keep these 3 legs on the floor, the greater your traction – and the greater your odds are building something great. And that’s our goal. To grow great!

Happy Holidays!

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4 Quadrants Of Growing Great Businesses & Careers #4039 - GROW GREAT Podcast with Randy Cantrell

4 Quadrants Of Growing Great Businesses & Careers #4039

4 Quadrants Of Growing Great Businesses & Careers #4039 - GROW GREAT Podcast with Randy Cantrell

Today’s show is about the four quadrants of how I approach serving people to grow their businesses and careers. They’re quadrants, not in the mathematical sense, but only in the sense that there are four of them and I don’t prioritize them. Well, that’s not actually true because I do intensely focus on quadrant 1 and all the work I do stems from that one. But my approach is quite holistic. I work on all of these simultaneously with clients.

Quadrant 1 is the trifecta of business building: getting new customers, serving existing clients better and not going crazy in the process. The business world has labels for each of these. Getting new clients is sales and marketing. Serving existing customers is work flow, systems and processes. Not going crazy in the process is about leadership and management. We lead people. We manage the work.

Quadrant 2 is about relationships and results. Sometimes I find that we have to first address the issue of capacity. If a team member lacks the skills to get the job done well, then results aren’t going to happen no matter how much work we put into the relationship. However, if people have the capacity to do the job (and presumably to do it well), then we should expect good results. Our relationship has a direct impact on that. If you don’t think so, then you don’t pay attention to college or professional football (the North American kind) and the hiring or firing of coaches. Sometimes talented teams don’t perform up to expectations because the coach is doing a poor job relating to or training the team.

Quadrant 3 is activity and variety. The adage is, “Give it to a busy man if you want it done.” That’s because we know that the person who appears to have enough margin in life to devote to something…well, they often don’t get around to it because they’re mostly in the habit of not doing anything. Instead, we give it to the person who is already busy and it gets done because that person has formed the good habit of doing thing. As for variety, well, I think that counts for quite a lot. Putting ourselves in positions of expanded opportunity and relationships is the way to greater growth. That’s important since the podcast is called GROW GREAT.

Quadrant 3 is repentance. Yes, that’s a spiritual term and don’t everybody likes it. That’s fine. Call it correction is you please. Same thing. We need to face up to our transgressions, own then, then fix them while turning the page.

In some upcoming shows we’ll dive more deeply into each of these, but for today we’re taking a drone’s view of all four. I hope you find it profitable for growing your business and your career.


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4 Quadrants Of Growing Great Businesses & Careers #4039 Read More »

Customer Base- The Foundation Of Any Business #4024 - GROW GREAT

Customer Base: The Foundation Of Any Business #4024

Customer Base- The Foundation Of Any Business #4024 - GROW GREAT

I’m too old to remember my first repeat customer, but I’m not so old that I can’t remember how powerful it was to have customers who’d come back and buy from me again, and again. Like most people with a sales background I was basically lazy. Repeat business fueled my inner passion to not work any harder than necessary. The effort exerted to persuade somebody to buy from me once, was at least twice (maybe three times) harder than it was to repeat that process. Enter the power of building a solid customer base!

How can more business owners fail to understand the power of it?

That’s easy. We need sales today. That whole “what have you done for me today” mindset has set up harder than the concrete foundation that serves to illustrate today’s episode. Too often we concentrate on making the cash register ring today (okay, I know we don’t all have cash registers, but it’s still the metaphor for getting customers…or actually, for making a sale). I was still a teenager when I learned that businesses can chase all sorts of things, but chasing cash is the worst one of all. Customers, inventory, employees — we have to chase many things and succeed in catching them. But nothing is worse than chasing cash. It fuels a desperation that every business person has experienced at some point in their life.

Short-term thinking sparks us to concentrate on getting customers today. Sometimes it compels us to be too transaction oriented, losing sight of the value we need to provide to our prospective buyers. As we focus on making the register ring today we can neglect to pay close enough attention to the clients who are running from us out the back door. Intently focused on the front door, we just care about getting new bodies in so we can make our cash flow dreams come true.

Problem: it’s a never-ending story!

Like the worse drug addiction, business owners grow addicted to new customers. Ask ten business owners about their existing customer list, “When you did last reach out to them?” — and quite often the response is, “Oh, I don’t know. It’s been a little while.” Probe a bit more and ask them to provide you a print out of their best customers and you’ll quickly see how little they focus on people who have purchased from them in the past. I know because I do it with some regularity and the responses are almost always the same. “I’m sure I could get that for you,” is the most common refrain I get when I ask an owner if they have a list of their best clients. Those same owners can much more easily tell you what yesterday’s sales were, or even what today’s sales are so far. All eyes are on the front door!

Pour a slab, a foundation. What’s next? Frame it up. Finish it out. At some point we’ve got windows and doors. Doors give us entry to the building. And exit.

Yet we can more easily focus on getting new customers – the entry – and not focus much at all on serving existing customers BETTER – so we can prevent customers from leaving us! Have you ever watched an episode of Gold Rush, that Discovery Channel show about gold miners up in Alaska? One of the worst things that can happen to a gold mining operation is for the sluice box (the contraption that is designed to catch the gold) to malfunction and let gold pass through. It’s money going down the drain (or out in the wash).

That’s what happens when we don’t pay attention to existing customers! Focus on loading more payload into the front end of the process — like gold miners who make sure they’ve got enough dirt to wash — and you may soon discover there’s no gold coming out the other end. No customers. No customer base.

A critical component of building a great business is developing systems that will effectively bring in new customers while simultaneously continue to dazzle the existing customers. Great businesses know how to do both at the same time. So why don’t more businesses focus on both of these? Why do some take their eyes off of customers as soon as payment is received, or services/goods are rendered?

Because they fail to see the true benefit of customers who have already said, “Yes.”

Because they don’t know the true lifetime value of a customer.

Because they’ve developed a system for attracting/getting new customers, but they’ve not developed one for hanging onto existing customers.

Because they think new customers are more valuable than existing ones.

There are likely many other reasons. None of them make any sense though because they all erode the customer base. It’s a common plight of businesses that are too focused on transactions, not customers.

It’s the siren call of the cash register. We get lured by the quest for new money. Meanwhile, the old money is walking or running out the back door taking their business to a competitor.

What’s The Value Of Existing Customers?

A: They already said YES to us.

You forgot that. All that hard work you put into attracting potential customers, and all the effort spent showing prospects why you are the ideal solution…that’s already been done with existing clients. They already experienced it and found you were worth the investment. You don’t have to go back to square one and try to attract them. It’s ground you already plowed, planted, fertilized and watered. You’ve likely neglected it so it’s going to require some effort to get the soil in good shape again, but that’s doable. Tend your garden.

B: They have feedback that will help us improve and grow.

Because existing customers have been through the process with us, they have a unique perspective. We can tap them for insights into ways we can do better. Refusing to have meaningful conversations with them is a lost and wasted resource that might make all the difference in the world in us experiencing growth or failing to grow. All because we simply didn’t ask the questions that could have helped us.

Find out from your existing customers what the experience felt like. Ask them why they bought from you. Ask them what went well…and what didn’t. Too often we’re nervous to have conversations with existing clients because we’re fearful they’ll aim a double-barrel shotgun at us and blast away with complaints and issues. Don’t fear that. Embrace it. Be hopeful you’ll get a few of those blasts because it’ll mean you can fix the problem.

C: The dissatisfied and unhappy existing clients can often become our most loyal advocates.

An existing customer with a problem is one of the biggest opportunities we’ve got. See it for what it is. Don’t shy away from it. Lean into it. This may be the first you’re hearing of it (likely if you’re not in the habit of checking in on existing customers regularly). Then, gather the facts, ask permission to look into this to see what you can do to fix it, then agree on a time when you’ll get back with them. Keep your word at every step. You’re trying to fix a problem and create the most loyal advocates you’ll ever have for your business. That’s because this client will have seen how you respond to problems. Most customers don’t see or experience that. It’s powerful so don’t neglect to use it fully.

A customer who is unhappy and willing to tell you about it can be turned into an advocate if you’ll handle it well. For starters, don’t get defensive. Acknowledge their pain and disappointment.

Next, apologize. Be genuinely apologetic about their experience. Don’t humor them. Don’t scold them. Don’t blame them. Accept full responsibility.

Then, assure them you’re going to fix it (but ONLY if you really intend to). Too often this is where I see businesses fail. They do pretty well up to this point, then implode by making a bad situation worse. They promise to fix it, then fail. Better to not promise, than to promise and not deliver! Be careful.

Ask the client what you need to do to make them happy. Failure to do this is equal to being offended by somebody only to have that person tell you exactly what they’re going to do to remedy the offense. No, YOU were offended. The terms of reconciliation are squarely on your shoulders, not theirs. But when it comes to customers we want to decide what we’re going to do to make them happy. All without ever asking them, “Mr. Customer, what would it take for me to make you thrilled?” Ask.

If you can remedy it on the spot, do it. Don’t delay. Business owners and other top leaders have the power to hit the Happiness Button for the customer immediately. Do it. Think as they’re telling you what they’d like — about how you’ll executive it, about how much it may cost (and I don’t mean in full profit costs, but in real hard raw costs to you) and make a decision. I’m not a fan of negotiating this, except in extreme circumstances where sometimes (rarely in my experience) I encounter an existing customer who is completely unreasonable. In over 40 years of running businesses I can count on one hand the number times that’s happened though. It’s rare. Most people are very reasonable and more often than not I encounter a proposal that is less than what I would have done otherwise.

Go above and beyond if you can. After the client tells you what you can do to recover, think seriously (and quickly) about dazzling them. It’s analogous to what Bible students often call “second mile religion” taken from Matthew 5:41, “And whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two.” That’s where get that phrase, “going the extra mile.” Do that with your existing customer who is disappointed.

If you’re able to exceed their request, do it. Don’t overthink it. Don’t over calculate it. Remember, this person is going to tell everybody they know. And in the day of social media, that might mean many more people than you think. You can’t view this in isolation. This isn’t just a single client we’re talking about. It’s your company and what your company represents. It’s reputation. Handle it with great care.

D: Existing customers want to buy more.

Most people put this up front. I put it last because it’s important, but it fosters too much self-serving behavior. I’d encourage you to focus on how you’re robbing existing customers of more services, products or whatever it is you DO. By neglecting them you’re not serving them well. Worse yet, you may be forcing them to search elsewhere to remedy a problem you could more easily fix for them. You’re an existing and known supplier. That gives you a cost advantage even if your prices are slightly higher — a time cost advantage. Your customer doesn’t have to get to know you, or trust you. They don’t have to go through the vetting process, or the trust building process. That’s worth money to them. You owe it to them to be there when they need you without forcing them to chase you down. It’s your job to be on the forefront of knowing their needs as they happen in real-time. That means you have to drive the bus in this relationship. Take charge. Be of service.

Solid Business Growth Hinges On A Solid Foundation

The bigger the building, the stronger the foundation required. The same is true with our businesses. You can pitch a tent anywhere. It’s not a sustainable structure. We’ve got too many businesses being run by tentmakers. Anybody can make one sale, or 100. Can you keep making sales? Can you make people happy. Consistently, over time. Sustainable is the minimum bar you must jump. You’ve been doing that. That means you continue to find new customers willing to let you serve them. That’s excellent, but that’s not providing a solid customer base, or foundation.

Strengthen your foundation for quantum leap growth by making sure you’re dazzling customers over and over again. Start judging yourself more strictly on how many people agree to do business with you a second, third or fourth time. Close that back door and stop letting customers leave you to find a solution elsewhere. That’s how you’ll grow your business!

I know it’s not complex, sophisticated or filled with buzzwords that prove how smart we can be. That’s because business building isn’t effective with all that stuff. The guys who pour the slab have to get a few fundamental things just right. It’s not complex, sophisticated or filled with buzzwords. It’s doing the right thing the right way. Period. Go to work!


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Customer Base: The Foundation Of Any Business #4024 Read More »

You Can't Offer A Solution Without Asking Questions #4020 - GROW GREAT

You Can’t Offer A Solution Without Asking Questions #4020

You Can't Offer A Solution Without Asking Questions #4020 - GROW GREAT

Thousands of salespeople have sat across from me throughout my career. Some were very good. Most weren’t. Not because they lacked ability, but most lacked what I valued most while leading a company – somebody who really wanted to help me grow my business.

Self-interest is what drives far too many salespeople – and others, for that matter. What’s in it for me? That’s our collective battle cry. I’m okay with it provided we help the other person get what might best help them first. Mutual benefit should be the objective.

Countless sales executives have entered my office for the first time ever, armed to the teeth with a bag (sometimes literally) of tricks they claimed would solve my problems. It always fascinated me how a complete stranger who had spent no time with me, or my organization could have such a solution. Or how they could even know what my problems might be. Focused entirely on what was in it for them, they began their pitch with all the reasons why this solution was ideal for me. It was left up to me to decipher whether or not they really did have something I could find valuable.

That’s a bad strategy for problem solving – no matter if you’re selling a solution or not. Well, actually, even people on the executive team are selling a solution. They’re trying to persuade the organization to accept their idea. The value of their solution isn’t enhanced with a “let me tell you why this is good for me” tactic.

Never put the burden on the buyer – whether it’s your boss, a client or somebody else – to figure out if you’ve got something valuable or not. Presenting the value as the buyer would see it isn’t the same as deciding if it’s right for them, or robbing them of the opportunity to decide for themselves. But let’s back up before we even get to the part where you present a solution.

First Things First. Ask. Investigate.

As a young salesman I read and heard sales trainers use a term that never felt quite right to me. Probe.

Probing is what we were taught to do to uncover a customer’s needs, possible objections and anything else that might help us figure out an ideal solution. Not that there’s anything wrong with the term, it just wasn’t a favorite word for me. My natural style was always to simply have an engaging conversation where I asked customers questions. It didn’t take me long to learn that if I could ask the right question, I could find out more about the customer’s desire. That elevated my ability to figure out what I might have to help them. Or it helped me learn I may not have anything that would help them.

I would often imagine somebody who requested an appointment just to find out more about our company, or me before knocking my door down with a “here’s exactly what you need” pitch. It never happened. Periodically (not very often), I’d see some sales executive who I thought might be open to hearing such a message, and I’d run the idea past him. Most were just polite, but only a few – very few – appeared genuinely startled at such a novel approach. Startled to the point where I thought they might actually try it.

These were the day of the one-call-close. Nothing has changed. People today are aiming for the one-call-close. We’re all busy. Our prospects are busy. We think, “We’ve only got one shot.” That’s not true though. And if it is true, then I want to challenge you to do something more valuable with that one shot.


You can stand out more by not putting your need to make a sale – that includes you executives who are trying to sell your boss on your idea – at the forefront. Instead, try to gain a clearer understanding of the problem. You can substitute pain, desire, want, need or anything else in the place of the word “problem.” Find the word that best fits your situation.

Every single day I’m talking with CEOs. From very small companies to enormous companies. And I always discover the same thing with any of them willing to talk to me – and most of them are willing. Here’s the simple, but service oriented strategy (which isn’t so much a strategy as it’s simply how I naturally operate):

  1. I spend a few minutes (1-2) telling them why I’m reaching out to them. Don’t play some bait and switch game with your prospects (especially your boss). Be candid. Tell people why you’re wanting to hear their story – why you’d like to ask them questions. It’s not an interrogation. It’s a conversation. Don’t make it a grill session.
  2. I then simply ask them to tell me their story. And I shut up. Most open up quickly – evidence they’re not asked this question nearly often enough. We all care about our story. Most of us wish somebody cared enough to ask us about ours. I do care enough. I’m fascinated by the stories I hear. Most days I hear more than one really compelling story. Amazing what you learn simply by asking.
  3. Then I briefly tell them the truth. Sometimes what I do – or anything I might offer – isn’t a good fit for me. That means it won’t be a good fit for them. Other times, I’m not sure. But it’s not up to me to make the call when I don’t know on my end. If I’m thinking, “This may be something valuable for him, but I’m not sure” — then I’ll tell them that. I don’t try to make the decision for them. They need to make the call.
  4. It leads to more conversation or it doesn’t. Either way, I’m good with that and I’m convinced so are they. We both win regardless of the outcome.

I don’t want to sell. And I don’t think selling or sales is a dirty work. I just don’t want to do what most people think of when they think of selling. They think of talking people into things. Manipulation. That’s not what sales is. It is persuasion and influence – which we all want to incorporate into our communication when we know we’ve got something of value…something that can help others. Mostly, it’s giving people an opportunity to solve their problem (remedy the pain, gain some pleasure, get a solution, etc.).

No Agenda Except To Give Others An Opportunity. And Give Yourself An Opportunity To Serve.

Put first things first. Put your prospect (yes, that means your boss, or perhaps a co-worker, or anybody else you’re trying to serve) first. Listen to them. Better yet, express interest in learning as much as you can about what they think, how they feel and what they want or need. Ask. Listen. Pay attention.

People are searching for solutions. Many are staring into space right this minute, wishing somebody would arrive into their life to help them. What if you could be that person? Why can’t you be that person?

My headline isn’t completely true. You can offer a solution without asking a question. You can offer a solution without even listening to the other person. It will be a terrible experience for you – and the person you’re hoping to sell. But you can keep doing it. And keep enjoying a life of disinterested people. They’re disinterested in your solution because you’re disinterested in them.

You reap what you sow.


Subscribe to the podcast

bula network podcast on itunesTo subscribe, please use the links below:

If you have a chance, please leave me an honest rating and review on iTunes by clicking Review on iTunes. It’ll help the show rank better in iTunes.

Thank you!

You Can’t Offer A Solution Without Asking Questions #4020 Read More »


4001 Happy New Year! Two Words To Define 2016

2016 Changes

What’s Going On?

It’s what we ask when we pick up the phone, or when we greet a friend. Today is January 1, 2016 and it’s an appropriate question to begin this new year.

I’m not going to bore you with the details except to tell you that it’s been a long time coming. Led Zeppelin released an album years ago entitled, The Song Remains The Same. As I was preparing for today’s show I thought of that song and record. And I also thought of the phrase, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The notion is that rarely do things fundamentally change so much. The status quo can be tough to alter.

As a man in search of an epiphany I’ve been fortunate to have a few. Not many, but a few. Last year I had a couple of them. One was that my lifetime spent building successful businesses prepared me to serve a bigger number of people than I first thought years ago when I began a side project of helping business owners grow their businesses. The other one was my personal style – the essence of who I am and what I do, coupled with how I do it – is just in my DNA and it’s ridiculous to do anything other than own it.

Neither of those was a first time epiphany. I had thought of those things before, but in 2015 I gave them deeper thought than maybe ever before. I made up my mind to wrap my arms around both of these things, embrace them more fully than I ever had before.

I’m a business guy. I’ve always been a business guy. It’s not a one-dimensional thing because the world of commerce is filled with a variety of characters, styles, approaches, experiences and skills. For every person who is animated and loud there are others who speak softly and behave in utter tranquility. There are blue jean wearing CEO’s and those who prefer custom order Brooks Brother suits. Some CEO’s drive only BMW’s and others opt for a pick-up truck. Business people don’t fit in a one-size-fits-all category. It’s part of the fun and allure of business. At least it is for me. And always has been.

I’ve spent most of my adult life running luxury retailing companies. Living with the daily pressures of business building is how I’ve lived most of my life since I was first given the opportunity to lead an organization. I know what it is to make payroll, manage an advertising budget, find ways to shave down costs, negotiate long-term leases, buy trucks, hire talent, train that talent and handle the occasional problem that erupts when you discover employee theft, or when you’ve got to make a management change, or when an employee suddenly dies. That variety of issues makes business building among the most exciting things anybody could ever do.

The more things change, the more they stay the same means that I decided last fall it might be time to get back to my roots — even though I’m still well on my way to reinvention and growth, personal and professional.

Which brings me to the two words to define this new year of 2016…

Grow Great.

It’s a complete sentence. It’s action oriented with a strong, powerful verb: GROW.

But it’s focused on a specific goal that’s positive. Some people are growing lazy, fat, complacent, depressed, cynical…and lots of other negative things. Our world is filled with that kind of growth. Instead, I chose a word that isn’t limited to any specific aspect of personal or professional growth. It transcends business and morphs over into our every day lives with our friends and family. It applies to the CEO who heads up a non-profit or the City Manager who operates a multi-million dollar civic budget. Maybe it seems beyond the reach of many, but I don’t think it is. I think everybody has it within their own grasp if they could just see it for what it is – possible – and if they could tap into learning a new things or two. The object of our growth? Greatness.

Grow great.

Grow-GreatOne big change is the podcast. The name. The focus. Even the format.

The podcast will focus on the trifecta of business building:

  1. Getting new customers or clients
  2. Serving customers or clients better
  3. Not going crazy in the process

Lest you think it has no application to everybody I serve – CEO’s, business owners, executives or city government leaders – consider YOU as a business. YOU are a business. The non-profit you run needs patrons and supporters. You could view them as vendors. You serve a cause or a group of people. They’re your customers. All the stuff you do to manage the work, or lead the people — that can be the stuff that drives you crazy if you’re not careful or skillful. Ditto for anybody leading a city government.

We all have to serve people, find ways to do it better and we need to find better ways to do it without losing our minds, or our personal lives.

Every organization I know of has problems. Every problem I’ve ever seen has one or more elements of these trifecta issues. Every problem. I don’t care if we’re talking about sales, marketing, improving processes, investing in new resources, handling personnel problems…every single problem can fit into one or more of these categories. Every problem you face will fit into these, too. Your career challenges fit into these. You need or want a new job or opportunity (new customers needed). You need to be more promotable or advance to a bigger role (serving existing customers better). You hate what you’re doing and you’re thinking of doing something completely different (you’re trying to avoid going crazy).

Here’s how Wikipedia defines “business” — a business, also known as an enterprise or a firm, is an organization involved in the provision of goods, services, or both to consumers. It could be YOU. It could be whatever organization you’re part of. Non-profit. Civic. For profit. Big. Small. Medium. Ten thousand employees. A solopreneur.

The podcast will focus on the trifecta of business building. It’ll contain information designed to help you grow your career and your business. Growth. That’s the objective. Targeted growth. Greatness. That’s what we want to accomplish. I’ll leave it to you to define that for yourself. Some would think it’s great to break 6-figures in personal income. Others would think greatness is defined by being able to sell an enterprise for 9 or 10 figures.

I’ve really only got three caveats to growing great — sustainable, predictable and improving.

Sustainable means it’s getting stronger over time. Day after day it’s getting better. It’s supporting itself. It’s not robbing Peter to pay Paul. It’s not living on debt. It’s self-supporting financially and it’s also fueling its own growth.

Predictable means you can calculate and strategize a degree of growth. There are actions you can take to bring about the desired results. It’s not a game of chance. It doesn’t rely on luck or happenstance. Instead, it hinges on putting the right processes and people in place to get the work accomplished.

Improving means it’s not going backward or standing still. It’s moving forward, advancing. Week after week, month after month, year after year — it’s getting better and better.

I’m going to take my own enterprise – Bula Network, LLC – to new, higher levels. Two years focused on only executive and leadership coaching left me knowing how good that fit me, and my life goals. It also taught me that my roots of business building don’t need to be sacrificed. I learned how congruent my skills and experience are. My value in helping executives and leaders is largely based on my vast experiences in building great businesses. There’s just no separating them…not if I want to provide the highest value possible. And I do.

My business consulting will go back to the roots of where it all began – helping business owners and business leaders grow their business. And that’s what I mean by the more things change, the more they stay the same. A new day. A new year. The old skills that have proven so successful throughout my life are going to be put to good use to serve people just like YOU.

The Responsibility Of Those Further Up The Path

As an experienced business builder and leader I don’t feel better than you. Certainly not more important. However, my responsibilities are different. So are my urgings.

When I sit across the table from a 35 year old leader or emerging leader it’s easy for me to remember my own life. I’ve been there. I know well how it feels and what the hurdles are. Because I’m just a few steps further up the path I’m able to work with such leaders and warn them of the potholes that may lay ahead. I can also help spot opportunities that often go unrecognized because the years and experiences have taught me to hone my real-time vision of both problems and opportunities. My clients need to benefit from my experiences. Truth is, the podcast listeners benefit from it, too.

The two words to define this year are the title of the new show – Grow Great. This is about the 4th iteration of this podcast, which is why I started with a 4000 series number. It’s a new beginning. In every way.

For you longtime listeners I hope you’ll stick with me. For new listeners I hope you find remarkable value and become faithful listeners.

My goal is to keep the shows as tight as possible. I don’t have an ideal length in mind because the subject matter needs to determine that. I am going to try to keep the episodes shorter – my aim is around 20 minutes. I’ll also try to keep each episode more focused on a single idea or action. Additionally, I’m going to make better use of tags and headlines. I know clever is what the Internet world seeks, but I’m aiming for something more. I want clarity and simplicity.

I hope you’ll subscribe to the new version of the podcast. You won’t have to change a thing if you’re already subscribing. The show name will change automatically. The RSS feed is unchanged. The name and cover art will change. Otherwise, the song remains the same.

Let’s make 2016 our very year ever! I aim to help you do that.


Subscribe to the Grow Great podcast

bula network podcast on itunesTo subscribe, please use the links below:

If you have a chance, please leave me an honest rating and review on iTunes by clicking Review on iTunes. It’ll help the show rank better in iTunes.

Thank you!

4001 Happy New Year! Two Words To Define 2016 Read More »

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