Dr. Jimmie Flores

Month: August 2014

3 Proven Ways to Beat Your Competition

Kool Derby

Being better than your competition doesn’t mean you have to do something dramatic. It’s not about coming up with a monumental idea, or working non-stop for 30 days. To lead the field, you have to start with the customer. Once you know the expectations, it’s critical that you develop a plan that you and your employees can follow.

Putting together the plan is the beginning. Make sure to keep it simple. A process with 10 steps is much easier to follow than one with 20. Remember that others must learn to carry out the plan, and they are more likely to delivery quality service when the design has a clear purpose, and a logical flow.

#1: Talk to your customer – over and over.

What does your customer want? Why is it that they chose your company and not the services provided by your competitors? What makes you unique? What value do you bring to the customer? How does that value create loyalty?

The higher education industry is competitive today. There are many private and public universities vying for prospective students. Adult learners are looking for an accredited degree with a flexible schedule. However, those components alone will fail to differentiate one institution from the next. The university leadership team must implement world-class customer support in the areas of financial aid, academic advising, and IT support. By taking that approach, a competitive edge is gained even in a dynamic, competitive, and saturated market.

#2: Simplify your processes.

The most successful organizations have a simple process to manage all activities. Process development and management might sound boring to some, but it is a key differentiator. Processes created at the operational level deliver the organizational strategy.

A life insurance company was taking nearly eight weeks to evaluate applications submitted by its salespeople. Through a quick audit, it was determined that seven people were reviewing the 21 steps required for every application. An external consultant team recommended that just two key people review the applications. By making this change, the applications were completed in just 48 hours.

#3: Develop a continuous improvement mindset.

It’s dangerous to believe that you have arrived. As I write this article, I’m sitting in an outsource center in The Philippines. Many business owners and organizational leaders are leveraging the power of talented people stationed around the world.

Your customers demand that you offer them a quality product at a reasonable price. The customer is now in the driver’s seat, and they expect to have the tools necessary to manage their business activities. To that end, you should provide account management tools they can access via web and mobile technologies.

The long-term growth and sustainability of any organization begins by focusing on the customer’s needs. In essence, many companies fail not because of competition, but because they failed to listen to their own customers.

Avoid trying to make big changes. Doing something just to gain attention is often counterproductive. Instead, develop a simple process, and teach it to your employees. Once it’s implemented, you must constantly seek feedback from your employees and customers to ensure the necessary adjustments are made promptly. This systematic and straightforward approach will provide your organization with a competitive edge for many years to come.

What’s Most Important to Your Customer? Customer Service? Quality? Price?

Kool Derby

When determining how to treat our customers, you must begin by doing something simple: ask them what is important to them. While this might seem elementary, it’s surprising how often this advice is ignored.

It’s erroneous to believe that customers are mostly concerned about price. While the cost of the product or service plays an important role during the purchasing process, its influence is less significant that you might think.

#1: Provide unparalleled customer service.

To be a leader in the market, the focus must be on providing top-notch customer service. You must take the time to ask the customer what is most important to him. If he is a buying a car, you can ask the following: How do you plan to use the car? Who’s going to drive the car? Do you travel long distances? What is your budget? Do you need a GPS system? How about the entertainment set? What color do you like? You cannot sell anything to anyone until you have a clear idea regarding the expectations.

The sale does not end your relationship with the customer. You must take the time to follow-up and make sure the customer is happy with the purchase. If you view your customers merely as a transaction, you fail to differentiate yourself from the competition, which means that you have zero competitive advantage.

#2: Ensure the product or service meets the quality requirements.

If you promised that the mobile phone would have excellent connectivity when traveling to Asia, you must ensure that level of performance. Quality means conformance to requirements. You must be proactive and advise the customer what is needed to maximize the use of any product or service that we market. You cannot allow the customer to “figure things out.”

The customer is willing to pay for better quality. Recognize, of course, that quality is subjective. For example, an insurance company might define quality by the speed with which claims are processed. The customer, on the other hand, might be more interested in the different interfaces available to contact customer support. While both of these items measure quality, you must focus on what makes the customer select you over the competition.

#3: The role price plays in the buying decision.

Price is important only to a point. A customer will generally not visit your store if they lack the financial means to make a buying decision. They will either have cash-on-hand or some form of credit to make the purchase.

When proposing a product or service to the customer, focus on the non-price advantages. For example, discuss your reputation in the industry, the 24/7 customer support, and extended warranty. By making the decision to buy non-price-related, you gain a competitive advantage. In addition, you make excellent strides to building customer loyalty.

Make an investment in your customers. There are times when you will barely breakeven on some sales, and the customer will recognize your generosity. Selling is not a game. Instead, it is a process by which you bridge a gap for your customers. You are providing something of value that will make the customer’s life better. By taking this approach, you will soon become a dominant provider in your industry.

3 Ways to Get Buy-In From Your Customer

Kool Derby

The goal for any project manager is to deliver the project on schedule, within budget, and to the customer’s satisfaction. To have a successful project, you must work with the customer throughout the life of the project. Avoid hoping and praying the customer will accept the final deliverable.

#1 Know Your Customer

Every customer is unique. What makes one happy will turn off another one. Take the time to find out more about what makes your customer tick. If your customer is a business owner, rest assured that she is concerned mostly about performance. The entrepreneur cares about how the results of the project will increase the bottom line.

When working with corporate customers, understand the nuances of the layers of management. You will likely work with someone who reports to several other people. From this person, you will likely hear the following: “Let me take this information back to my team.” “We have a meeting this Wednesday to determine if we met the milestones.” In other words, while you might be working with one person, that individual cannot make decisions on his own.

#2 Create a Requirements List

Project success depends on creating a requirements list that is customer-focused. It is critical to know exactly what the customer wants. Ask the questions that will determine what the end-result is supposed to deliver. Avoid thinking that you are building features and functionality for the customer. The mechanics of what you do are largely irrelevant.

The customer is concerned with the output, and not necessarily the process. For example, you create a web-driven database to collect e-commerce transactions. Collecting and storing the information is important, but the customer cares more about the market segmentation reports that are generated, which allows them to make follow-up sales.

#3 Seek Feedback

The project manager is responsible for asking the customer how the project is coming along. Be more specific by seeking answers to these types of questions: “Are the links easily found on this page?” “Is the shopping cart customer-friendly?” “What are we missing?”

The feedback from the customer is sought both formally and informally. You should have scheduled meetings to discuss progress on the project. Absent these meetings, spend time with the customer on the telephone, via email, a webinar here and there, and lunch meetings. You must develop a system wherein communication flows freely between you and the customer.

Getting the customer involved during the project is essential for project success. By making sure that you and the customer are on the same page, you avoid scope creep and improve the odds of developing a long-term working relationship.

3 Proven Ways to Increase Business Sales 

Kool Derby

Many people fear selling. The thought of rejection is uncomfortable. The fact is that sales is a numbers games. If you have a 10% conversation rate, you will need to present to 10 qualified buyers before someone accepts your offer. To become more successful, you must either make more sales presentations or increase your conversion rate.

Over the past few years, I’ve taken a different perspective to selling. I no longer consider a rejection as “I don’t want to do business with you.” Today, my approach is that the timing is not right. My sales calls are to qualified buyers, so I’m aware they are interested in what I have to offer. However, they might already have a provider, or perhaps the item is not in their budget. My goal is to nurture these prospects, keeping them in the loop until they are ready to buy.

Here are three proven ways to increase business sales:

#1: Have a clear understanding of the value your product or service will provide the customer.

The customer doesn’t buy a copy machine. Instead, they buy a tool that makes fast and high quality copies. In other words, you must put yourself in the shoes of the customer. The First Class passenger is willing to pay more for a flight because she will have a comfortable environment to work, eat, and sleep.

We You can only know the needs of the customer by consistently asking for feedback. Avoid implementing a new approach without the input from the customer. Be aware that your customer often has other customers, and it’s your responsibility to know the needs and wants of those individuals, too.

#2: Providing more depth and width to your product line.

Selling just one version of a particular item is problematic. Imagine a university offering just one degree: Business Administration in Management. That’s it! When you enroll, you are assigned 40 classes required to earn your undergraduate degree. You cannot select any electives (no depth), and you cannot choose a different major (width). You are a 100% Management student.

Variety expands your product line, and makes the organization more marketable. By adding more majors, the university can attract more students, and thereby increase revenue. The cash flow increase improves the ability to make investments in other ventures. This cycle improves the competitive nature of the business.

#3: Develop a sales plan, and stick to it.

The problem facing many organizations is failing to have a sales and marketing plan. In many instances, the sales staff is still following practices from a decade ago. For example, they use only print media to target our customers. I heard recently from a newspaper executive that dailies are dying, replaced by a Sunday only model.

The pre-Baby Boomer age group is married to technology. It’s important to target this group with information they can retrieve on their mobile devices. Technology continues to change, and the marketing team must keep with the pace.

Finally, I must reinforce the importance of metrics. You must know your baseline, or our starting point. Once you know where you are today, you can develop our goals and identify the milestones in between. When the plan is sound, you must stick with it even when obstacles arise. Of course, the role of leadership is to ensure that you keep making measured progress despite the many challenges.

3 Ways to Recover from a Mistake at Work

Kool Derby

What did you do now? What did you say that got you into hot water? Did you accidentally insult the boss? Did you blame a co-worker for work that went undone? Did you praise the competition too much during the marketing presentation to top management?

You are going to make mistakes, and you must have strategies to identify them quickly, and to implement a recovery plan. It’s essential that you quickly determine when you erred. You must know what to fix.

Incompetent people are sometimes described as those who don’t know that they don’t know. For these individuals, mistakes are common because they are unwilling to accept that they could be wrong.

While you are a professional, you are not a pro athlete. You are not going to miss a last-second shot, throw an interception, or swing-and-miss at strike three. When the clock hits 5:00 p.m., you can keep going. It’s time to put it in overdrive, and not worry about the pressure of overtime.

Here are three strategies to recover from a mistake at work:

#1: Accept responsibility for the mistake, and develop a plan to resolve it.

Your boss will appreciate that you accepted responsibility for the mishap and you went a step further to fix it. Avoid having others remind you of the problem. The sooner you determine what went awry and how it can be corrected, the sooner you can put it behind you.

#2: Convert the mistake into a long-term benefit for the organization.

In many cases, mistakes are made because you are careless. For example, you failed to have a checklist in place, which means that the customers were not informed of the change in venue.

Once you fix the mistake, pull together a team to discuss how you can avoid this problem in the future. In essence, you are creating a quality control measure that will help the organization in the future. In quick order, your mistake has led to process improvement, and your leadership team will recognize the importance of this effort.

#3: Do whatever possible to avoid making the mistake in the future.

You must ensure that mistakes are not repeated. If you failed to make an important meeting because you forgot to add the item to your calendar, make sure that you have a back-up notification plan for future meetings. You can have your assistant text you 30 minutes before the scheduled meeting. It’s important that you have a plan in place. Making the same mistake continually is a sign that you lack professionalism, and it will eventually lead to bigger problems.
You’re not perfect, and that’s for sure. The fact that you are imperfect makes you human, and provides you with a chance to showcase your wherewithal. You also learn the unpleasant feeling of doing something silly, and its immediate impact on your business operations.

However, once you assume accountability, you can find a solution. The leadership team respects those who identify the problem, implement an immediate fix, and seek a long-term solution. In fact, perseverance is an important trait for successful leaders.

The lesson here is to avoid fretting about mistakes. Unlike pro athletes, you have more wiggle room to get out of a pickle.

15 Tips For a Successful Meeting

Kool Derby

As the organizer of a meeting, it’s imperative you ensure everything is prepared. Take the time to coordinate everything from the small stuff to the big items. Have you confirmed the room? Surprisingly, I attend meetings where the coordinator has failed to confirm the location.

Here is a list of 15 items you should also consider:

  1. Determine the number of people who will attend the meeting.
  2. Make sure to have handouts for all participants. Collate the handouts in advance.
  3. Make sure that everyone has your contact information. A business card in each packet will do the trick. However, include one page containing how meeting-goers can reach you with questions or comments.
  4. Plan who will receive the color materials. If you are promoting a product or a service, it’s best to have color copies for everyone.
  5. Make sure to have an agenda for the meeting. I recommend sending the agenda a few days in advance to make sure everyone is aware of the meeting topics.
  6. Call in advance to confirm you will have a projector. If you are using an Apple product (MacBook, iPad, and so on), bring the necessary adapters.
  7. Ascertain who are the key players in the meeting.
  8. Determine the right place for you to sit. You may want to avoid the head of the table because an influential person generally occupies this position.
  9. Are you planning to sit or stand? Sitting might work in some situations, but it’s best to stand up when you are presenting a topic by using a projector.
  10. Avoid intruding into one’s personal space. You want to maintain at least 18 inches separation from those in the meeting. Similarly, it’s best not to touch anyone. Keep a professional approach at all times.
  11. Let others know when questions can be asked. I have more successful meetings when participants can offer their input throughout the meeting, and not have to wait until the end.
  12. As the meeting coordinator, ensure that you stay on track. Avoid letting participants control the pace. If necessary, assign times to each topic. If a particular item requires more discussion, inform others that a new meeting might be necessary to address this issue.
  13. Observe the meeting participants to determine the level of interest. If someone is failing to pay attention, it’s probably because that person doesn’t belong in the meeting.
  14. When a question or comment is vague, make sure to re-state it, allowing everyone to have a clear understanding of the issue.
  15. Assign someone to compose meeting minutes. These minutes should also include action items. Meetings are more effective when issues are resolved, and when new problems or opportunities are assigned to the right individual.

Planning your meeting makes a big difference. Take the time to address all the issues you can control, such as the meeting time, location, notification of attendees, food, beverages, and so on. When the meeting begins, reinforce the importance of covering the agenda items. Once the meeting is over, inform everyone that the minutes are forthcoming. Finally, make sure to follow up with the individuals assigned action items.

So, you want to be a PMP?

Kool Derby

So, you want to be a PMP?

Why do you want to earn the Project Management Professional (PMP) credential? Until you are 100% certain why it will make a difference for you and your career, it is nearly impossible to take that first step to submit the application at PMI.Org. One thing is certain; the PMP is a game-changer.

Know the PMI Expectation

Over the past few years, I have taught many project management courses, including PMP certification. From that experience, I know that many students are surprised by the requirements expected from PMI before one can sit for the exam. First, the candidate must have at least 4,500 hours of leading and managing projects during the past 8 years, assuming the applicant has a 4-year degree. Without an undergraduate degree, the hour requirement balloons to 7,500.

Before thinking that it will take you forever to earn the hours, understand there are 2,080 working hours during the year. Therefore, if you are working on projects throughout the year, you can meet the requirement in several years of work. Of course, many of you work more than the standard 40 hours per week, so meeting the requirement is more likely than you might think. If you are not currently working on projects, it is mission critical that you find project work.

When you pay the annual fee of $129 to join PMI, and then decide to apply for the PMP exam, instead of paying $555 to take the PMP exam, you will only pay $405. The annual renewal fee is $119. It is $129 for new members.

What is Project Work?

In the Project Management Essential course that I teach, we make sure to learn the definition of a project:

• It is a temporary endeavor designed to create efficiencies for the organization.
• Projects are initiated to generate revenue for the organization.
• Projects must have a start and end date. They cannot be open-ended.
• When done, the project manager and team members will deliver a unique product, service, or result to the customer.
• The work is unique, and not routine in nature. For example, building a payroll application is a project, but processing payroll is not. I joke with my students that if you are employed by an organization in which making payroll is a project, you might want to consider a different place to earn your keep!
• When the customer receives the deliverable, and the project manager conducts the closing process, the project ceases to exist. At this time, the project team is released.

If you do not have much of an opportunity to work on projects where you work, consider posting on Craig’s List or freelancing to secure project work. You can create presentations, write user’s guides, or manage virtual teams. This effort gives you an opportunity to earn hours and get paid at the same time.

Take Action

In the PMP Certification classes that I teach, I observe that only 20% or so of the students proceed to take the exam. The vast majority will find reasons to procrastinate. Interestingly, many who put off the exam are prepared to do well on it, but inertia sets in, and they are unwilling to make the investment of time and money.

My recommendation is to set deadlines. Once you have a date in mind when you would like to become a PMP, the chances are that you will move in that direction. From my experience, I can tell you that career opportunities abound for those who accept the challenge and become a Project Management Professional (PMP).

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