Management

4 Ways to Give Your Customers Exactly What They Want

In his book No B.S. Ruthless Management of People & Profits, business coach and consultant Dan S. Kennedy presents a straightforward assessment of the real relationship between employers and their employees, and dares you to take action. In this edited excerpt, the author discusses why your business just has to be "good enough"—not perfect—in order to succeed.

What I’m about to describe is enormously rewarding and admittedly difficult, but finding the “Good Enough Spot” (GE Spot) is essential if you really want your business to succeed. Here's how you can use each of your four roles as a business owner to help you figure out how you can be "good enough" to bring in the business.

1. Leadership role.

Your role here is to figure out exactly what your customers value most vs. value least in a relationship with a business like yours. Not what’s important to you. Not what you think should be important to them. What is important to them. To figure out what aspects of your business offer opportunity to “wow” your customers and give you some sort of competitive advantage—without undue cost, without the paralysis of perfectionism. To be able to communicate this clearly to others.

You must arrive at a comprehensive understanding of the “Good Enough Spot” in every aspect of your business. This is how you finally quantify what so few business owners can ever quantify. How you clear away the fog of uncertainty, confusion and vague ideas from your own thinking, your employees’, your suppliers’ and your customers’. Having a clear and definitive “Good Enough Spot” for every aspect of your business is the most empowering management breakthrough possible. It's up to you to locate your GE-Spots and assemble them into a list of specifics that supports the overall positioning of your business.

2. Marketing role.

For this role, you need to turn your GE-Spots into a clear, clearly understood and embraced covenant with your customers. Your positioning, advertising, marketing, public relations, publicity, sales, physical environments—your entire presentation of your business to the marketplace—have to manage customers’ expectations.

A very visible secret about companies that really prosper is that they have clearly understood covenants with their customers. Southwest Airlines is a great example. I’d describe its covenant as no food, no frills, kind of an ugly boarding process -- basically a bus on wings. But they’re kicking butt to take off on time, get you there on time, and their people will ease your pain with good humor. Disney’s theme parks’ covenant is Walt’s original “The Happiest Place on Earth®.” There’s something going on constantly to make everybody happy—characters signing autographs, parades, happy music and every employee, right down to the store clerks trading collectible pins with kids and the street sweepers who initiate helpful conversation with anybody looking confused. Each highly successful company has a different kind of clearly understood covenant with its customers. The people running the company and the customers all know where the business’s GE-Spot is. They share a common understanding.

3. Management role.

Your management role is to translate that covenant into clearly defined standards for how your business operates; how your products are made, packaged and delivered; how your employees perform; and how your salespeople sell. You need to come to grips with both the need to meet your standards 100 percent of the time without fail but also not to waste time, energy or money in seeking perfection or excellence outside or beyond those standards. I know this contradicts so much of what you read and hear from all the happy-thought theorists in creativity, leadership and excellence bailiwicks. The most famous of all “excellence books” featured companies that went bankrupt or were otherwise marketplace losers in the years following the book's glorifying of them, in part because these companies wasted resources pursuing celebrated standards of excellence incongruent with their covenant with their customers. The reality is, all the most successful, dominant and profitable companies find their way to the place I’ve described. They establish a complex matrix of exact standards and meet them. They don’t bother trying to “out-excel” the standards they’ve established. If you now examine and analyze highly successful companies through this prism, you’ll quickly see just how right I am.

4. Supervisory role.

This involves enforcing your standards—no exceptions, no excuses, no creative deviation, no improv. And I mean “enforce” in every sense of the word. Not just teach (although you must teach), not just reward (although you must reward). Enforce.

This is the responsibility nobody likes; just about everybody neglects it and desperately rationalizes the neglect.

Unfortunately, there's more B.S. in management theory about this than any other of the responsibilities of business ownership. It delivers a giant guilt trip. There’s the “If you don’t trust your people, how do you expect them to trust you?” the “You can’t run a business like a prison,” the “These are old, outdated ideas that won’t work with the new worker,” and another hundred or more anti-enforcement themes woven through books, articles and seminars. For the business owner already uncomfortable with police work, desperate to be liked, deluded about the actual nature of employer-employee relationships and eager to avoid enforcement, this blather is cocaine. And it's at least as dangerous.

The problem is, everything else you might do right is sabotaged by a lack of supervision and enforcement. Every investment you make reduced in value. Every customer you acquire at constant, high risk of loss. Every grand idea, every noble policy, every clever marketing strategy castrated.