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Monthly Archive for August, 2012

The new class of small business influencers

In The Age of the Seller, three groups mattered to a business for sales growth: suspects, prospects and customers. Let’s talk about these in order of appearance.

A suspect is anybody and everybody; think of the names in the local phone book. Initially, a business has no relationship with a suspect until contact is made in some way. Then, if the qualifying criteria turns them into a prospect, the relationship develops further until they’re converted into a customer, or not. For 10,000 years, of these three, only prospects and customers were influencers of a business.

In the Age of the Customer, which was born of the Internet, businesses have to learn how to operate where influencers are not only evaluating their traditional activity, but their online presence as well. And in the new Age, there are now three influencers: the original two, plus a new one.

The new influencer is users, and their impact is only online.

Like suspects in the original Age, users are people you probably have not yet developed a business relationship with. Unlike suspects, users become influencers of your business in at least five ways, but only if you have an Internet presence:

  1. Users find you online and appraise your offerings, information, and behavior before you know they exist.
  2. Users can influence others by posting their appraisal – good or not so much – on any of the commenting (Yelp) or social media platforms (Facebook). And even if the appraisal is not good, you still get the next three.
  3. The very act of users finding you, especially if they leave a commenting trail, reveals themselves to you.
  4. Some form of contact information (email, handle, cookie, etc.) is left behind.
  5. You can assume that the user has at least a tacit interest in what you do and sell.

Users are suspects on steroids. I have identified them as a new class of prospect, because as they wield their influence, they actually self-qualify themselves without any direct cost or involvement by you. How much could that impact your prospect development plan?

If you’re still unimpressed with the potential of this new group of influencers to your business, remember this: The drivers of value for the big social media platforms are not customers, but hundreds of millions of users. And every small business has the ability to convert a user into a paying customer in a way that makes Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn green with envy.

Develop a strategy to turn users into your new class of prospects.

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I have written and talked extensively on the new influencers and other facets of The Age of the Customer. Click here to listen, read or watch.

Check out more great SBA content HERE!

Watch Jim’s videos HERE!

Take this week’s poll HERE!

Small Business Advocate Poll: Romney and Ryan

The Question:
Mitt Romney has chosen Wisconsin Congressman, Paul Ryan, as his VP running mate. What do you think about this decision?

71% - I Great choice! Ryan will energize the GOP base and attract independents.

18% - Bad choice for Romney - good choice for Obama.

11% - Doesn’t matter - the VP candidate isn’t important.

My Comments:
One of the most widely speculated upon and most anxiously awaited announcements for the past several months, has been who Mitt Romney would choose as his Vice Presidential running-mate.

The short list included Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Marco Rubio of Florida, and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. Each gentleman has critical credentials - both politically and tactically - that placed them on this short list, but none had a longer list of plusses and minuses on their balance sheet than Ryan.

Consequently, when Romney announced that Ryan was his choice, it was seen as bold and gutsy by some and suicidal by others. Because the good Congressman’s thought-leadership resulted in positions and proposals for how to get America’s fiscal house in order, conservatives call him hero and liberals call him dangerous.

We wanted to know what our small business audience thought about this pick, so last week in our online poll, we asked this question: “Mitt Romney has chosen Wisconsin Congressman, Paul Ryan, as his VP running mate. What do you think about this decision?” Here’s what we learned:

One-in-six of our respondents said, “Bad choice for Romney - good choice for Obama,” while a little more than one-in-ten allowed that it, “Doesn’t matter - the VP candidate isn’t important.” But the big group, coming in a 71%, said, “Great choice! Ryan will energize the GOP base and attract independents.”

There are two things that Romney’s opponents are worried about with regard to Ryan: 1) He’s VERY smart; and 2) he’s very likeable. Apparently even those who vehemently disagree with his positions like him, including President Clinton.

Since Ryan is from a state that hasn’t helped a Republican presidential candidate in almost 30 years, this choice cannot be seen as a politically strategic one, as the Hispanic Floridian, Rubio, would have been. So that means Ryan was a tactical choice - based more on substance than positioning.

Unlike the 11% of our sample who discount the VP impact, I predict that over the next 11 weeks Ryan’s participation will move the electorate needle. Watching which way it moves will be interesting political theater.

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Yesterday on The Small Business Advocate Show I talked more about Paul Ryan as Romney’s VP choice and the impact on the election. Take a few minutes to download or listen and let me know if you agree.

Check out more great SBA content HERE!

Take this week’s poll HERE!

Are you hidebound or visionary?

Since 1995, control of the three major elements of your customer relationships – product, information, and buying decision – has been shifting from business to customer. As you may remember, I’ve identified this shift as a marketplace transition from the original age to the new one – the 10,000 year-old Age of the Seller is being replaced by the Age of the Customer.

As this shift plays out, two types of businesses - Hidebound Sellers and Visionary Sellers - currently exist in parallel universes, but not for long. Which one are you?

Hidebound Sellers

These companies are so invested and entrenched in the old order of control that they deny the reality in front of them. They can be identified by the following markers:

  • Misplaced frustration: As performance goals get harder to accomplish, frustration makes those who deny the new realities think their pain is caused by a failure to execute.
  • Bad strategies: It is said that armies prepare for the next war by training for the last one. So it is with Hidebound Sellers. Not only do Age of the Customer influences make them think they’re being attacked, but they persist in using Age of the Seller countermeasures.
  • Destructive pressure: Convinced of execution failure, pressure brought to bear by management results in an employee casualty list instead of a growing customer list.
  • Equity erosion: Defiance in the face of overwhelming evidence sustains the deniers only until they run out of Customers with old expectations, and/or equity and access to credit are depleted.

Visionary Sellers

These businesses are adjusting their plans to conform to the new reality of more control by customers. Visionary Sellers are identified by these markers:

  • Acceptance: They accept that the customer is now in control and make appropriate adjustments to this reality.
  • Modern sales force: They hire and train their sales force to serve increasingly informed and empowered customers.
  • Technology adoption: They offer technology options that allow customers to find, connect, and do business using their preferences.
  • Relevance over competitiveness: They recognize that while being competitive is still important, today it’s just table stakes and is being replaced in customer priority by the new coin of the realm: relevance.

In the Age of the Customer, Hidebound Sellers are dinosaurs waiting for extinction. Visionary Sellers are finding success by orienting operations and strategies around a more informed and empowered customer.

So what’s the verdict? Are you Hidebound or Visionary?

Check out more great SBA content HERE!

Take this week’s poll HERE!

The unique ability of entrepreneurs

One of the traits of an entrepreneur is a passionate desire for more - to discover and acquire more information, more efficiency, more productivity, more capability, more speed and yes, sometimes even more money and stuff.

But entrepreneurs don’t own the franchise on this trait. Lots of people WANT more. It’s just that entrepreneurs set themselves apart from others because they actually have the ability to create more. God bless entrepreneurs because, without their vision, courage, energy, and passion to create more, many of the things that enrich our lives would not exist.

It’s important that our world creates the fertile soil in which entrepreneurship can grow. Fertile entrepreneurial soil is where accomplishment is recognized, courage is admired, passion is encouraged, ideas can be openly debated and where truth is valued.

And entrepreneurs are not just found in the traditional marketplace. You can find them in education, in medicine, in research and yes, even in government. All species of entrepreneurs should be allowed to flourish wherever you find them.

But if you are having trouble finding an entrepreneur, the quickest way to solve that problem is to go hang out with small business owners.

Check out more great SBA content HERE!

Take this week’s poll HERE!

The power of entrepreneurship and liberty

Speaking of America’s founding in The Fortune of the Republic, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “We began with freedom.”

Indeed. But that freedom didn’t become useful until the Founders converted it into liberty and lasts only as long as the stewards of each generation protect and maintain it.

Freedom is a state of mind anyone can assume. But liberty is a contract we bestow upon and expect from each other. And from that contract, American entrepreneurship was born as the child of liberty.

Liberty and entrepreneurship have an interesting symbiotic relationship: You can have liberty without entrepreneurship, but you can’t have entrepreneurship without at least tacit liberty. But while liberty as a human ideal is more primordial than entrepreneurship, the latter has a political advantage that comes in handy in some places on planet Earth.

In China, for example, to pursue liberty as a foundation to entrepreneurship might be difficult – even dangerous. But since it is not typically seen as a political statement, engaging in entrepreneurship, even as a veiled precursor to liberty, is more practical and safer.

IEEW's 2012 Peace Through Business graduating class from Afghanistan

IEEW's 2012 Peace Through Business graduating class from Afghanistan

Consequently, outside of America it is possible – sometimes necessary – for the child, entrepreneurship, to precede and flourish ahead of the parent, liberty. Such is the case in Afghanistan, but only for women.

Recently, at IEEW’s “Peace through Business” conference, in Washington, D.C., I met and interviewed an Afghan woman who is a wife and mother of three small children, and an entrepreneur. Freshta Hazeq founded the only woman-owned printing company in the capital city of Kabul. In America, Freshta would be celebrated; in Afghanistan, her business has been sabotaged and her life threatened because she competes against men.

The entrepreneurial desire to create a business that could provide a living for a family actually promotes liberty without a political declaration. Over time, in countries like Afghanistan, as the ideals and values of entrepreneurship acquire critical mass, it will be discovered that liberty has flourished on the foundation of entrepreneurship.

In America we began with freedom and forged it into liberty, which gave birth to entrepreneurship. In Afghanistan, especially if you’re a woman, entrepreneurship will give birth to liberty. But, like America’s revolution, it comes at a high price.

Why is Freshta willing to pay this price? Because she has a daughter.

Liberty and entrepreneurship - powerful and symbiotic.

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Click on one of the links below to hear Freshta Hazeq’s touching and inspirational story of the unique challenges she faces as the owner of Royal Advertising and Printing Press in Kabul, Afghanistan and what she is doing to improve as a professional business owner.

How Peace Through Business works in Afghanistan

Breaking the mold for women in Afghanistan

Check out more great SBA content HERE!

Small Business Advocate Poll: Don’t mess with small business

The Question:
As a small business owner, which political party do you think is more closely aligned with your future success?

8% - Democrats

62% - Republican

17% - Libertarian

13% - None of the above

My Commentary:
Those who are aligned with the Democrat Party came in at 8%. The big number, 62%, came from our respondents who claim the Republican Party. Libertarians represented 17% of our sample. Thirteen percent allowed they couldn’t find a political home with any of these three.

Libertarians have many political differences with Republicans. However, when it comes to policies that impact operating a business, like taxes, regulations, trade, etc., Libertarians and Republicans are usually not far apart. So, if our audience is representative of the small business sector - and I think it is - it’s reasonable to predict that this sector will break significantly for Mitt Romney on November 6.

Consequently, when the President makes statements like, “You didn’t build that,” it probably won’t hurt him too much with the small business sector, because most of them are not likely to vote for him anyway. But there is another potential effect to consider.

Polls indicate that small business owners are highly regarded by Americans. So the question is: How many independent voters will hold the President’s comments, practices and policies that seem to be unfriendly to small business, against him? It may not be many, but in battleground states, like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, it might be enough to change the outcome.

These are the kinds of nuances in the ten battleground states that will likely decide who the next president is.

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This week on The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked more about what you said about which political party you believe is more aligned with your small business’s ability to succeed. Click here to download or listen.

Check out more great SBA content HERE!

Take this week’s poll HERE!