Three Keys to a Profitable Business - Doug Taylor
"For $1,000,000, would you jump out of an airplane without a parachute?" In my seminars, almost everyone responds "No." Only one or two really think it through and then ask the critically important question: Is the airplane on the ground?
Key number one for building a profitable business is: Asking the right questions. Asking the right questions is critical to the success of your business, whether you're just starting or have been at it for years. Developing new reps, building a dynamic downline, successfully marketing products or services, creatively solving problems, and a host of other desirable outcomes all depend on asking questions. Like any other skill, we learn by practice. Asking questions is like riding a bicycle or reading a financial statement: The more you do it, the better you can become.
Ironically, asking questions is a skill that's greatly under-valued in our society. Instead, we learn a very specific protocol for classrooms, seminars, and workshops: Sit down, pull out a pen, take notes, and keep quiet. Think about it-- consider every high school, college, graduate or business class you've ever attended. In your experience, based on an average class size of 30, how many students will ask questions? The answer I receive most often in my seminars is two to three. No one has ever voiced a number greater than five.
History is full of examples, however, that show how asking questions can lead to major breakthroughs. Einstein developed the theory of relativity by asking questions. Canon developed the cartridge copier by asking questions and by exploring alternatives that no one else had apparently considered. One of the greatest competitive edges you can achieve in your business costs nothing. Simply ask questions others are not asking.
How do you know what those questions are? Check your assumptions. Identify every assumption you're making and challenge it. Before reaching a final decision on a key business issue, a marketing approach, or a long-term strategy, ask yourself, "What assumptions am I making here?" Don't overlook any of them. The most dangerous assumptions are the ones you don't realize you're making. Witness the airplane question-- most people potentially walk away from $1,000,000 because they don't stop to check their unstated assumption that the plane is flying. Many don't even realize they're making the assumption.
As you ask questions and check assumptions, avoid the temptation to jump quickly to answers. Instead, ask more questions. For example, suppose you ask yourself:
"Why am I not getting more sales?"
It would be easy to knee-jerk an answer like "I'm not working hard enough." Instead, ask more specific questions, such as:
"How often do I close a sale when I talk to a prospect?"
"How many prospects do I talk to during a given week?"
Now keep going. . . .
"Are there systems I could put into place that would ensure that I make enough calls to achieve my sales goal for the month?"
"Is my sales approach effective?"
"Are there different methods I could try to gain more sales, meet more prospects, or generate more repeat business?"
Your questions can help crystallize the problem and guide your inquiry. Sometimes, when a problem has been so clearly defined by the questions surrounding it, the answer simply emerges.
Using this process, you may uncover major business and/or marketing opportunities that you and/or others have overlooked. As Francis Bacon said, "A prudent question is one-half of wisdom." Practicing the skill of questioning can help you reach new markets, develop new services, and creatively achieve your business and personal goals. And asking questions can save you a lot of pain.
Let me tell you about two questions I didn't ask that cost me dearly.
In the late Eighties, I learned about a relatively new concept in computer-based communication called hypertext. Today, many people are familiar with the hypertext concept of linking information. It's the model used by most software help systems and by the World Wide Web. But take yourself back about ten years. In those days, the Internet was familiar mostly to academics. Windows wasn't universally installed. We were still building and running PC applications in DOS.
Even at that time, I found the hypertext concept revolutionary. After playing with it for awhile, I became enormously excited by its potential. To me, hypertext was the greatest thing since sliced bread. With the encouragement of my very supportive wife, I quit my position as a senior consultant with a major international consulting firm and started my own company specializing in the design and development of hypertext systems.
I became a zealot. I called on virtually anyone I knew. My approach was simple. Since the concept was hard to explain over the phone, I made appointments to give demos. I'd go into a company, show them my demo, and then say something like, "Isn't this the greatest?!!! Let's apply this technology to your company!!!"
Would you care to guess how many new clients I got during my first year in business using that marketing approach?
Not three, not two, not even one. We're talking none.
Some of you can identify with this. You're working hard at your MLM business, making the pitch, talking to everyone you can buttonhole, and getting really discouraged/frustrated/tired of hearing people say, "Gee, that's really nice, but I don't think I'm interested."
I became discouraged too. Finally, in desperation, I had lunch with a friend whose business is marketing. I said to him, "Mike, am I nuts? Should I just give this whole thing up and go back to my consulting job?"
My friend Mike gave me some sage advice. In essence, he said, "Doug, you have failed to ask two very important questions. First, who is your market? And second, what is their problem?"
He was, of course, absolutely right. Sure, most people acknowledged that hypertext was nifty, but they had problems of their own. I wasn't addressing those.
I took Mike's advice. I identified a segment of the market with which I was familiar and in which I had credibility from my previous career. I identified a specific need that I knew those people had that my technology could solve-- a burning need where I knew I could save them money.
Lo and behold . . . when I approached those people in that way, the clients began to come in the door.
Key number two in a nutshell is: Identify your market. Who are they? And what is their problem?
Your market is not everyone. Please do not be one of those people who believe that everyone should be in their downline. You know the type. The people who corner folks in elevators or in the grocery store line, religiously pulling out their pocket compensation plan folder to try to earn a convert. Not only is that process inefficient and exhausting, it imposes a hidden cost on the entire MLM industry. Sure, that approach might snag one interested person for every 50 approached, but what about the carnage left behind? What about the 49 turned-off people who might otherwise have considered an MLM opportunity (or at least purchased an MLM product or service) had it been presented in the right context? It's like indiscriminately cutting down 50 trees just to find one that might have the wood I want. Such an approach destroys the forest, leaving no trees for anyone else.
For example, can you imagine picking up a few melons at your local fruit stand and having a person from a software company-- who happens to be standing behind you-- start trying to sell you a new revolutionary word processor that can change your whole life? We'd consider it rude and intrusive. Software companies don't do that. Why? Because they're a business, and they target their markets. If they want to be remembered positively, they carefully consider when and where to market, making sure their approach is respectful of their potential clients and maintains a professional image of their organization. (We actually had someone in our area put her MLM business card in the bags of Halloween trick-or-treaters. Do you suppose that person, her company, and the MLM industry were truly served by the impression such an act undoubtedly left with the children's parents? Can you imagine your accountant doing that?)
Successful marketing is about identifying and filling unmet needs. So, first, decide who your market is. Then learn all you can about those people: their problems, their challenges, where they work now, what their needs are, where they hang out. Start hanging out with them. Once you've built a relationship and credibility, then consider talking about your business. Show them how your product, service, or business can meet their needs, if it can. If it can't, find a different market.
Key number three is: Test, test, test. This third key is often, if not universally, overlooked. We need to test almost everything in our businesses. For example, do you approach people in a haphazard fashion, or have you scripted what you are going to say? Scripting works. It allows you to lay out exactly what you want to say and edit it in advance. Then you can try it and track the results. After you've seen how one approach works, try a different one and track the difference in results. Good marketing is scientific. It's based on testing, tracking, testing, tracking, and then testing some more. Why? Because we don't automatically know what will work, and we can't necessarily trust our instincts or our "common sense."
Joseph Sugarman, one of America's consummate ad copy writers, knows what it means to test. Years ago, he was asked to market Swiss Army watches in the U.S. There were a total of nine watches in the entire line; men's, women's, and children's, each in three different colors. You'd think that a wider range of choices will automatically result in more sales, wouldn't you? So running a mail-order ad with the full line of watches should produce the best results, right? Ah, but a master identifies and tests his assumptions. And Sugarman is a master. He tested the effectiveness of a Wall Street Journal ad featuring just a single watch against a virtually identical ad featuring the full line of nine watches. Results? The single watch ad outpulled the nine-watch ad three to one!
I also learned this one the hard way. Several years ago, a friend and I co-authored a book for Prentice Hall entitled, VHDL Made Easy!, a text about a computer language used by engineers who design electronic circuitry. While Prentice Hall did their usual marketing, we decided to do some of our own. Armed with a database of several thousand engineering types, we prepared a direct mail campaign.
We put together a nice-looking flyer, a discount offer, and a teaser on the envelope. It looked great. Feeling confident, we mailed one to everyone on the list. However, we made a critical mistake. We didn't test the mailing. Had we done so, we might have come up with a better headline, or a more motivating offer. The result? Less than 20 orders. We spent over $2,000 on that mailing, most of which was lost.
Unless we want to be just hit-or-miss effective, we must test. And we can test virtually anything. Phone greetings, opening lines, follow-up letters, even our dress. For example, I understand that it has been scientifically shown that men's clothing store salesmen who wear blue suits, white shirts, and red ties will sell more than salesmen dressed in any other outfit. Have you tested what dress works best in your marketing efforts?
Tracking and testing maximizes your business efforts. For example, a few months ago, I needed a plumber. I dutifully pulled out the yellow pages, scanned the ads, and found one whose ad indicated he could do the job. During our initial conversation, he asked, "Where did you hear about us?"
"The yellow pages," I replied.
"Which book?" he immediately asked back.
A sharp businessman, I thought. Several phone books cover our area. By asking, he could track whether a specific yellow pages ad was profitable, and based on the total fees of jobs obtained through that ad, he could track exactly how profitable it was. Using several different phone books, he could also test whether one ad layout pulled better than another.
Are you tracking where your sales are coming from? Have you tested and refined each aspect of your marketing plan? Do you know which marketing approaches are producing results for you? If you give presentations, have you scripted your main ideas and particularly your closing? Have you experimented with several closings to see which one is most effective?
You don't need to be an expert at any of these things. Just start. Don't make a mountain out of it. Instead, do a little. Think about your market. Go spend some time with them. Ask them questions. Listen to what's bothering them. Write down some of their needs. Script a phone call. Or write down a brief summary statement of your business that you can use as an opener when you meet people. Remember:
"Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first." -- Anonymous
Asking questions, identifying your market, and testing every aspect of your marketing approach provides your business with a powerful foundation. By using these three keys, you can be well on your way to achieving your dream . . . a Network Marketing business that works.
DOUG TAYLOR and his wife, Kal, are independent representatives with I-Link Worldwide. A successful actuary, business owner, author, and speaker on the subject of personal effectiveness and performance improvement, Doug is the founder of the Thinking Dynamics Institute. He works with organizations that want to harvest more of the potential of their people and with people who want to make personal breakthroughs. You can reach Doug at 360-863-8800 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(For a free copy of "Questions That Can Move Your MLM Business To Action," please send a self-addressed, postage-paid #10 envelope to Thinking Dynamics Institute, 21424 Calhoun Road, Monroe, WA 98272, U.S.A.)
Reprinted with permission from Upline, Taylor Feature January 1999, 888-UPLINE-1, http://www.upline.com