From time to time we all have blinders on, don’t we? Seeing what we want to see instead of what is. As manufacturing leaders, it feels easier to keep blinders on and discount the thing that’s bright and blinding right in front of us. Like, when your sales team tells you something you don’t want to hear, your customers complain across social media or top-performing long-term employees are exiting stage left and you choose to ignore it instead of change. (more on this in a minute) Ditch the blinders and overcome the three most common obstacles that lower your odds of attracting and keeping loyal salespeople and customers.
HARD TO SEE OR HARD TO BELIEVE?
Keep operations lean, increase margins and gain market share better and faster than your competition. All while dodging endless distractions, interruptions, and attending meetings about meetings. It’s a long race with a demanding pace. Which makes it absolutely necessary to make continuous adjustments to our race strategy. Turning a blind eye, staying focused on the peripheral or the past, may feel safe and less risky, but effectively keeps your brand under wraps while Reality comes storming down the front stretch to win by two lengths.
Oddly, racehorses have the opposite reaction when wearing blinders. You see, their eyes are at the sides of their heads, which indicates that they are hunted in nature — similar to rabbits, for example — as opposed to the hunters such as cats. So, horses have peripheral vision, which means they can end up running off course unless they are made to remain focused. Blinders keep the horse’s eye focused on what is ahead, rather than what is on the side or behind.
Always curious about the “why” I discovered this bit of trivia you can share at your next dinner meeting:
Some say that blinders were invented when a preacher had a wager with one of his friends. The preacher bet that his horse could walk up the stairs in his home, which the horse did with no problem at all. But, when he tried to coax the horse down again, it wouldn’t budge! So, the preacher covered the horses head and lead him down. He realized that covering all or part of the horse’s vision could encourage the horse to take chances it would not normally take.
Jockeys have a very small amount of control over their horse. If their horse decides to take a different route, it will simply take the jockey with it. You can see how this could be problematic. And, not helpful in winning races. Blinders for horses are good. For manufacturers, not so much.
As leaders, you have a much greater amount of control—to slow things down, listen intently, acknowledge the elephant(s) in the room and change course swiftly. You can choose to bury your head in spreadsheets and “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or listen to your customers, your sales team and your gut. It may sound old-fashioned, but common sense will always show you the way.
Sometimes it’s not that we can’t see, we just don’t want to, depending on which stable we fall in to.
RETIREMENT, EGO, AND IGNORANCE ARE BLISS
Nearly twenty-five years of marketing for and consulting with manufacturing leaders has taught me this. If you have blinders on you most likely fall into one of these three camps:
Retirement: You’re planning on retiring in the next twelve to twenty-four months, so why rock the boat?! Let the next guy make the adjustments.
Ego: Acknowledging the problems exist somehow makes you feel weak or that your leadership is being questioned. Your ego (and possibly your job) is on the line, so, instead, look the other way and maybe the problem will work itself out or go away completely.
Ignorance: Your salespeople and spreadsheets are warning you straight up that customers are confused, aggravated or leaving and offer ideas how to “run a better race” and you are, or choose to remain, blissfully ignorant that “Houston, there is, in fact, a big fat problem and we are off-course.”
REMOVE THE BLINDERS
It’s no secret that the majority of manufacturers are not out in front when it comes to progressive cultures, modern marketing and adapting quickly to change. The past doesn’t have to decide your future. Reality is coming up fast around the backstretch and, as luck would have it, you’ve got everything you need right now to adjust your race strategy and remain the front-runner. Let’s take a look at the three most common blind spots I mentioned earlier to increase your odds and help you go the distance.
#1 SALESPEOPLE Hold the Key to Creating a Better Customer Experience
Salespeople are one of your biggest assets and they can often see what you can’t. Hear them! Sure, all your best salespeople are persistent, goal-setters and good listeners. Their real superpower is knowing your customers and prospects better than anyone else. Ask them for input and ideas and include them in marketing strategy brainstorming and initiatives. Their experiences are plentiful and current and chock-full of insights that you and your marketing team don’t possess. Knowledge and ideas that will greatly improve your customer’s journey and keep you ahead of competitors and disruptors.
Silo them and you might as well market in a box. The real opportunity here is acting on their insights and advice. When was the last time you spent the day with them calling on customers? Sat down together and put yourself through your own customer journey? Your salespeople will help you make buying from your company faster, easier and worth repeating. If you let them.
#2 CUSTOMERS: Ask, Listen and Learn
Customers are already telling you what you need to know to improve your strategy, processes, and products. You just have to be where they are and be part of the conversation. It’s already happening with or without you. Are numerous negative reviews (about your brand) sitting on social media platforms right now that have gone unanswered? How many people are loving up your brand? How do you respond to them?
That old customer survey you did pre-2008 isn’t going to tell you what matters to your audience now. Ask them today, thru surveys, polls, focus groups, online and in person, what matters to them and why. Create meaningful segmented content (not limited to words, but imagery, video, podcasts, webinars, etc.) and share it consistently. Don’t talk to existing customers like prospects and don’t talk to contractors the same way you do architects. One size doesn’t fit all.
Customers don’t really care about you and your products. They care about themselves and how your products and services make their lives and businesses better. Stop at features and benefits and you only speak to 10% of their brains (the rational part). Add real value and emotional engagement and you hit the trifecta (how decisions are made 90% of the time).
#3 CULTURE: It Costs Less to Keep Great People
Focus on hiring great people. Create a team atmosphere. Surprise and delight employees when they least expect it. Be mindful of their desire for career growth potential and make it possible. Most of all, give employees the ability to make an immediate impact; train them and equip them with everything they need to succeed.
Start new conversations to create change faster. Like Garry Ridge of the $380M WD-40 brand—write and share your Maniac Pledge, an oath to empower and align employees and create a “smooth operation.” Ignore these things and your best people will go elsewhere. If they haven’t already. Here is one eye-opening statistic.
In a study conducted by the Center for America Progress, the cost of losing an employee can cost anywhere from 16% of their salary for hourly, unsalaried employees, to 213% of the salary for a highly trained position! So if a highly trained employee is making $120,000 a year, the true loss could be up to $255,600 to the company!
As a result, creating and maintaining a positive healthy company culture saves you a fortune and makes you a front-runner for attracting new talent.
GOOD SENSE WINS THE RACE AND MAKES SALES EASIER
The same horse races have been running for over a hundred years. Possibly like the company you lead. Owners and jockeys that listen to the trainer and the horse, embrace new technologies and techniques and modify their strategy go on to win. Over and over again. Successful modern manufacturers lead without blinders, see with new eyes and listen with open minds. Even when it’s uncomfortable or unfamiliar.
Reality is coming hot and heavy up the backstretch. Blinders off for the win!
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