Small Business Lessons From Big Business Mistakes
By Jim Blasingame
Here is a true story from which several business lessons can be learned.
A while back, I needed to reach a friend who worked in the local office of a national company. Searching online, and yes, even the phone book, I found only a toll-free number that connected to an answering system for the entire company. That's right - this business didn't publish a number for the local office. And incredibly, the automated system did not offer an option to connect to any local branch or person. I'm not making this up!
Lesson 1: Don't create barriers to customers. Even if you think you don't have barriers, look anyway, because you might. Ask employees and customers to help you find them.
Undaunted, I finally acquired the local number (yes, they had one), but the person who answered said my friend, who was in sales, had been laid off. It turns out, this publicly-traded corporation was losing money, so in order for the CEO to impress Wall Street analysts, who influence the stock price, almost 2,000 employees across the company were told to hit the bricks. Never mind how valuable these employees were or if those cuts would hurt the company's long-term performance; the quickest way to increase profits was to cut payroll.
Lesson 2: Performance goals are important for planning, but customers don't always buy on your schedule. Don't let short-term expense pressures cost you sales, and worse, long-term customer relationships.
I learned that my friend had been a top producer, but since he was the last one hired he was the first to go. He's no longer a payroll drain on his former employer, but one of their competitors quickly snapped up this winner.
Lesson 3: In the 21st century, seniority doesn't trump performance.
So what if this big business CEO had simply installed a phone system that made sure customers could connect to his local offices? The answer is that my friend and several hundred others may not have been fired. And who knows? By simply eliminating one customer barrier, this company might actually have needed to hire more salespeople to handle all the business that would not have gone elsewhere.
Lesson 4: How you run your business - including people, systems, technology and policies - is not more important than the fast-evolving expectations of prospects and customers.
By the way, that big business that taught us these valuable lessons is no longer in business. Big surprise.