Why are we short-changing our customers?
Small business support too often fails its end customer, says Robert Craven. So what's the solution?
I’d just come out of a remarkable day of meetings with four sets of ambitious business owners. Remarkable because of their spirit, enthusiasm and determination. Remarkable because they could all see the potential of their businesses (but didn’t quite know how to capitalise on it).
Remarkable because they all told a similar story, had similar issues and had been on similar journeys. But what made this particular day remarkable, or maybe I just hadn’t noticed it before, was the underwhelming and disappointing experiences they had been through at the hands of their so-called business advisers, trainers, consultants and gurus.
Presented in various guises, all four businesses had handed over hard-earned money in good faith. In a nutshell, the recipients of client monies were totally brilliant at marketing (identifying customer hurts and selling the solution). Websites and brochures with videos and testimonials showed how past clients had seen their businesses totally transformed. Inspirational stuff.
And looking for the universal antidote, the quick fix, the ultimate solution and the unique insider secrets, my guests had bought into some form of intervention. And their complaints were varied and many: organisations led by (noticeably absent) celebrity entrepreneurs, free workshops with unsophisticated and fairly aggressive back-of-the-room upsells, programmes that lacked structure or the individual attention required, sets of CDs/MP3s that had ‘unique’ content that was not actually that unique but had been particularly well-packaged.
Action required to get results
I felt embarrassed that these four fine businesses had felt so let down by the business support industry. I know that the organisations that had worked with these businesses had done some fine work. Clients have seen remarkable results. So what was going on?
There is a continuum of effectiveness that exists when looking at developing and growing your business. At the least effective end of the spectrum would be reading newspapers, books and manuals. Next would come attending workshops, exhibitions and events. And then, at the far end of the effectiveness spectrum, would come one-to-one consultancy and mastermind groups. As effectiveness increases then so does the cost in terms of time and money.
My point is this: Actions create results. Whatever intervention you choose to buy will only impact on your business performance if you make the tough decisions and take the necessary (and appropriate) actions for your business. In other words, the intervention needs to get you to take action. Attending or listening or reading great business ideas is an entire waste of your time and money if you don’t do something (and it has to be the right something) as a result.
And that’s it really. Very few of the relatively inexperienced entrepreneurs actually have the skills to listen/read/understand and translate the great words of wisdom into a relevant and suitable strategy that they are able to roll out effectively. By definition, people buy into such programmes because they feel vulnerable or inexperienced or insufficiently wise. They don’t know what they don’t know. And they need help and assistance to know what to do. That means some kind of one-to-one interaction is required.
Small business support – you get what you pay for
I am afraid that being given the knowledge is not enough. You need to be given the tools and the assistance and support. That is why consultancy and mastermind type interventions, although exponentially more expensive than the cheaper options, should deliver significantly better results. The hand-holding and individual attention will give you exponentially better results.
So, what became of these four businesses? Well, they had all been shown copious quantities of fascinating strategies and theories. Now they need to find a way of applying all this fine stuff.
Maybe the (unregulated) business support industry itself is at fault by not helping clients to understand what they are really buying. In the zealous enthusiasm to nail a client the benefits of the end-product gets over-exaggerated.
Yes, we all know about ‘Buyer Beware’ but the vulnerable client is at a disadvantage as he/she may find it difficult to assess which product offering is best for their specific needs. In such a circumstance we should not be surprised that the customer buys from the supplier who they think is the right one. As the courses will go on to tell the business, marketing is not a battle of the product but a battle for the mind of the customer.
Robert Craven is an entrepreneur, businessman and author who has run Mastermind Groups and action-centred learning with Warwick Business School, Business Growth Programme and London’s Accelerated Growth Programme among others. His latest book is Grow Your Service Firm . He is managing director of The Directors’ Centre.