Four advisors to SME businesses specialising in sales process, web development, financial management and Google advertising discuss how to simplify and systemise for a sustainable business in 2020 and beyond.
Meet the panel
The topic for this evening is simplify and systemize for sustainable business in 2020 and beyond. And the way I’ve organised the panel discussion is around simplify, systematise and sustainability. In my experience putting simple and systems in the same sentence can be a little bit of an oxymoron because speaking from bitter personal experience, I love new gadgets and I love technology and fancy systems and I have a bit of a habit of confusing people in the process and sometimes making things worse. So I’m hoping that you guys will help me out and stop me chasing bright, shiny objects tonight, because those bright, shiny objects do get me sucked in!
In a high tech world of systems and automation where people chase bright, shiny objects, how do we simply simplify?
Well, it’s simple but it’s not easy, because I think so many things are dragging our time down. I think if we can really be clear, crystal clear on what our promise is to our customers and what we’re actually delivering in value to them, then we can simplify around that. And probably the best example that I can think about on this is not someone that I’ve worked with personally but FedEx. FedEx has the-“tagline where it positively, absolutely has to be there overnight. Something like that.
So if you think about simplifying, if that’s their promise to their clients, then that makes it simple in their choices. If they have three things to do and one of the things allows them to get better and more efficient at delivering to their clients quicker, overnight, then that’s what they choose. And so it’s not that the shiny objects go away, it’s that if you have a really super clear understanding of who your customers are and what you deliver to them and that’s what your brand promise is, then that should help you decide between the bright shiny objects and choose which one is actually going to help you truly deliver on that to your clients.
Facilitator: So it’s all about the brand promise. If you don’t have a clear brand promise, it’s going to be tricky to choose.
That’s it. That’s exactly right. Often what I find is people think they know what they’re doing or what they’re selling, but do they really know from a client perspective? So that’s why I go back to doing client experience and journey interviews to understand and help businesses understand from a client perspective, what is it that these people experience and what is the unique value proposition for them. So then we can build everything around that.
Heidi Do you have some examples from the Financial Management world where technology and automation help make things easier for the customers?
There’s a lot of stuff around now that is supposed to make things easy for the customers. In my world, things shifting to the cloud has made some elements of the customer experience a little bit easier. Most accounting systems or any system now that is producing an invoice offers the opportunity for a customer to click a link and pay straight away, that’s going to make life easier. It should make life easier for the business too, less having to chase a debt.
Facilitator: I notice people do pay quicker when I put that link in there.
Yeah, they do. There are other elements of that type of system that make things easier for the customer too. Sometimes these systems have customer portals, so the customer can log in and check and see everything that’s been active in their account for that particular supplier. So there’s a lot of interactions for the client to look at how they’re trading with the business, that does help.
So I guess the focus is always on that client experience. Raie an you give us some examples of using website technology to make the customer experience simpler?
Absolutely. And it’s all about looking at it from the customer’s perspective and personalising it for your customer as well.
We’re collecting a lot of data these days, and this allows you to give far more personalised service.
What we do with our clients is dig deep into what the process is for their clients, how do they want to use the website, what’s going to make it easier for them.
A good example, one of our clients CK Minerals, sells mineral specimens internationally, and they’re really high-quality specimens. So they’ve gone into a really specific audience, people who collect these particular minerals.
What we’ve done with their website is when they get new minerals rather than just putting them up ad hoc, they do it as a launch. So they email their customer base, so everybody knows what’s available and when it’s going to be available. And they put it all in the back end and then it all goes live at a particular time so that it’s all integrated. And their clients, they know, if I jump on the website now, I can pick up a new mineral.
And so having that data has allowed them to put that system in place, to make it really simple for them to know what to purchase.
Facilitator: The latest mineral you want when you want it kind of brand promise.
Yeah. And then we’ve built things into the website to make that easier for them to manage. So there are one-off minerals obviously, so there’s a timer on the cart so that nothing is going to get left in someone’s cart. If they haven’t processed it, it goes back in so other people can buy it, like event tickets.
Then with the dimensions, it’s really important what the client sees, they want to know not only what it looks like, the client wants to know, how big is it? How heavy is it?
And in the backend, we’ve got the dimensions for when it’s packaged for shipping calculations. So you’ve got shipping calculations for wherever it’s going in the world, and that’s automatically calculated. So that makes it really easy then for our clients to be able to ship it out.
We’ve got currency converters because they’ve got an international client base. And so it’s really thinking through what’s going to make it easier for the client to purchase. You can buy it straight from the thumbnail or you can go through to the product page. Just little things that make a difference for the client to buy. Then when they sell something, it has a sold sticker, but you can still see it, but it drops down to the bottom of the category because that’s important for their clients to know what available and what sort of things might be available in the future.
So it’s really thinking through, all the little things you wouldn’t necessarily think about, but because we can customise it, you can adjust it to suit their client base.
Another example I’ve got is from my experience buying printer cartridges on line. A couple of years ago, I was looking up the printer cartridges we use at this particular business based in Melbourne, good price, but absolutely hopeless to actually find the cartridges on their website.
What they do now, so a couple of years later, they’ve collected enough data. They’ve thought about it enough that now I get an email and that’s got my printer cartridges in this email. So they’ve got their blurb and then maybe you’d be interested in this – and there is my bundle and my individual colours.
And so being able to put that into the system, into your email marketing, they personalised that for me, made it simple for me. I keep those emails because I know in three months time I’m going to want another printer cartridge, I’ll just pull it up and it’s there.
If it’s something that’s really relevant to you and is useful to you, it makes life really simple, I don’t have to go searching, and that’s where we’re heading.
Tony, with all your Google expertise, how does Google help make things simpler?
I think, if you’re on business, you’re there to serve people, and people care about the outcome of your service, not all the time you spent in the background. Maybe you’re a mindset coach, you get to help them with their mindset because they got a problem, they’re stuck or they need to grow somehow. They don’t care that you spent three hours researching them or their industry in order to attract them to your business and your solution. If you can find a way to speed that research process up, that you can get that information in a minute and then you process it and then you have more time now to spend on them, one on one. Now, you’re using automation to add value not just to save your time. .
Think about your calendar. How long do you spend on the phone, how many phone messages does it sometimes take trying to set up an appointment with someone or after someone had to cancel and you need to reschedule. Google’s calendar will recommend a time based on everyone else’s calendar, everyone’s free at these times. And it will tell you – tis is when everyone that’s in the invite is available.
Systems and automation and AI just save unnecessary time. In marketing, there’s so many ways of analysing data faster, more efficiently, because no one cares that you spent 15 hours working on it, they care about the outcomes. So if you’re able to process data quicker and faster, then you can spend more time with your clients actually working on what’s important to them, like on a strategy or analysing that data from a top end level to drive more revenue.
Facilitator: What you’re saying is it’s not about cutting the amount of time you spend with the client, it’s about maximising the quality of the time you can spend with the client by doing all this.
I’ve always argued that, so something like big companies certainly like to automate something for a cost point of view. It’s like we can automate our packing procedure to bring costs down. I view automation as an opportunity to add more value,
Let’s look at client retention… Everyone knows retaining a client is more valuable than gaining a new client. So when was the last time you hand wrote a letter to a client or something like that, or after you meet with someone when was the last time you hand wrote a letter saying, thank you for meeting with me to talk about us possibly working together. You’d never do that because you’re too busy doing other stuff, but if you automate the stuff you can then it frees you up to do the special stuff that makes you stand out.
If you use a CRM you can take notes during your meeting and then you can automate the reminder to write a thank you card, the calendar reminder would tell you what you met them for last week. So you already remember everything straight away and just go, “Thanks Jim. It was great to talk to you about……” And you sound like a genius because you remember about everything you spoke about. Because you put notes in your CRM which automatically pulls in there, that adds value.
So I believe automation should add value rather than cut costs.
So do we still need systems when you can use all these new, fandangled, super sexy, do everything applications. Why would we introduce a system now?
Systems help you create things to be repeatable. And when you repeat something or you do the same thing the same way all the time, you’re pretty much always guaranteed that the outcome will be the same.
So no matter how many new fandangled shiny objects you have to play with, if you don’t have a system and you don’t understand what you’re trying to achieve, you’re going to play with your bright, shiny object and get nowhere. A system is a recipe so that if you follow the system you always achieve the same outcome. The bright shiny objects should be used to make the system more efficient.
So it’s best to start with the system (or the recipe) and once you have the outcome and the system worked out, then you can start to look at ways tools and applications can make it work more efficiently.
Too many people start with the tool and then build the system from there. That’s the wrong way round. Start with the system and fit the tools where they can add value and efficiencies.
Systems add multiple value in so many ways. So even if you’re the only person in your business and you’re the only one doing a certain action with clients. I think I had more systems when it was just me in the business than when I had the team because I just was on too many things back then. I was doing every single task in every single department. So I needed to set myself like, what do I have to do when I do this? And it was more of a checkbox system than follow this process. It was like, have I done this? So it’s a quality control.
If you don’t have a system, then you have absolutely zero quality control. You’re going off your own memory and no one here is perfect and we’re all going to forget things. And the more you’re doing, then the more likely you’re going to forget things. It’s the same reason they say, if you say you’re going to do 12 things for the day, you’ll probably do six. But if you’d say you’re going to do six, you’ll get six and you’re going to do them really well and be much more satisfied.
So the more that you’re relying on yourself to make sure you do something right, the more likely you’re going to stress yourself out to the max. So even if you don’t have a team and you’re not planning on adding a team for the foreseeable future, a process driven lifestyle at work will save you a lot of undue stress while you’re doing your work.
As a small business owner, how do you work out which systems to apply? How do you prioritise that whole systems choice thing?
Well, I think you really need to start by looking at where your problems are, the problems with your client, problems that your client has or problems that you’ve got with your business or problems with your staff. Then working through the systems that will solve those problems.
Clients come to me when they’re a bit overwhelmed by where they’re at in their business and they need a system to manage it. One of my clients, Nick, runs chess education classes in school, at lunch time and after school.
He’s got about 50 schools and quite a lot of teachers and hundreds of kids that he’s looking after. And he’d just brought on another school with 170 kids and he was just at the point of saying, I can’t actually manage this anymore with my spreadsheets. And he’s a chess champion, he can manage a fair bit. He couldn’t manage this extra 170 kids.
And so by putting a system in place, what that did was it, on a whole lot of levels that really helped him manage the numbers. So first of all, you can book in the right number of kids. We could put security around it so parents could only see their own school. He then got parent details as well as kid details, so the emails he could just roll them over from term to term. Before that he was relying on the school office to collect forms from kids and collect money and it was all really haphazard.
Suddenly he was getting all the money up front at the start of the term. He knew how many kids were in the class, and it just made this massive difference. And so now he’s got a system that he can look back and think, oh, okay, now I can grow my business. When I said at the start, this would allow you to grow your business he’s like, I don’t want to grow my business, I can’t cope, I just can’t manage it. And he discovered he could.
But you had to go through it in stages as to what’s going to make the most difference and what are the important factors. So I think really important to look at what the problem is and then solve it, which is what you were saying before Heidi, that you really have to identify what you want to solve before you can solve it.
I think people who are sitting here thinking, well, how do I do that in my business? And I think the answer has nothing to do with mechanics or robotics, it actually has to do with people.
So if you want to know what problems are most important for your client that you can help them with, get skin to skin with them, get face to face, talk to them, discover. I think that it’s good to wrap mechanisation and systems around those problems but first, we have to understand what they are, and we have to understand them more broadly than just from ticking them off. We have to understand them logically, tactically and emotionally. And the only way that you can do that is by talking to your clients.
It’s beautiful to get down to clear things that you can tick off. But the truth is that in communication, only 7% of communication comes via the written word. So you’re losing 93%, which is why when we shoot off emails and they get misconstrued, that’s exactly what’s happening there. So I just … and taking it to a broader example, just thinking about how the banks have staffed up with customer experience. They were out doing net promoter scores, I don’t know if anyone’s been to the bank and they’ve said, out of 10, how likely would you be to refer someone, based on your experience today, refer your family or friends to this bank?
And when you were going to answer, often the teller would say to you, look, anything below an eight isn’t a good score for us, so they’re impacting the outcome. And I just call that lipstick on a pig because if you don’t deeply understand your motivations of your clients, then you can’t sit a metric or a score or something that’s meaningful around it. So qualitative first and then add the systems later.
How do I know I’m building the right way for something that’s actually going to be sustainable into the future?
I’m fascinated by companies who do really well and who really deeply understand their customers and keep that as their touchstone. So Airbnb, I don’t know if anyone’s ever heard of them. So at the start, they really didn’t do very well. And they went to lots of different investors and got nowhere, got nowhere, got nowhere.
In the end, what the founders did, not the first thing but when they started to be successful is they moved to New York because that’s where all their listings were. The second thing they did was the founders went and stayed on every couch that was listed, every spare room, every house, every, every, every, every. Because they wanted to really build all of that experience into how they advertise, how they built the system, et cetera.
So obviously that’s not sustainable once you scale – to stay in every room. But what it allowed them to do was deeply understand their customers, both that person who’s hosting the room and the person who’s staying and build all of that smarts into their programme.
So my question to you is, what’s that unsustainable thing that you can do to start, and then once you really, really understand, then hit the scale button, and make it sustainable.
So sometimes we have to do unsustainable practises in order to get the insights in order to build a sustainable business.
Meet the host
CEO and Founder, Synergy48 Group
Brenda has an honours degree in organizational psychology and a Graduate Certificate in training and development and she is an experienced trainer, facilitator and counsellor. She is a firm believer in mutual collaboration combined with a practical, hands on tools, strategies and systems as the most effective way to achieve real results in business.
Brenda has over 20 years of experience training in communication, team work, time management, productivity, organisation and strategic planning in large organisations. She is also the developer of the Business Benchmarking Toolkit used by Synergy48 Group members and clients to identify areas for improvement in their business processes.
Brenda is a sought after mentor, speaker and trainer in the areas of strategic partnerships and networking with a difference. She is passionate about actively giving back to the community. In addition to donating her speaking fees and a proportion of every Synergy48 Group membership to provide microfinance to help women in Malawi to start their own businesses, Brenda has climbed the Himalayas to raise money for Kids Help Line and helped lay a pipeline to supply water to a remote village in Tanzania.