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How to Drive More Word of Mouth and More Questions for February

Personal recommendations are more important than they’ve ever been before.

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We have equestrian games coming to town with 100,000 visitors expected in the area. How can I take advantage?

Lucky you! This gift horse trotting into town is possibly wearing golden hooves. “It’s fair to assume that visitors to equestrian events have the resources to spend — and studies show people are more likely to spend when they’re on vacation or doing things they enjoy,” notes Andy Malis, co-founder of MGH, a full-service ad agency in Owings Mills, MD. First thing to do is inquire of your sales reps if they will have booths or some other promotional events you can partner in? Retail store consultant Kate Peterson recommends you make a special effort to explore joint promotion opportunities, especially those that involve onsite events in your store. “Work with targeted vendors to set up a themed trunk show in the store,” she says. If there’s no corporate connection, Malis recommends going it alone. “I would contact the organizers of the event and find out every possible way to get in front of this audience. They may be offering sponsorship packages.” And if you can’t actually participate officially, think ‘outside-the-event’, he says. “Which hotels and restaurants will be involved? Can you create a ‘Welcome Package’ to be given to each attendee? Include some local foods/beverages plus info (do you offer emergency repairs or lens replacements?) and incentives to visit your store.” It goes without saying that this advice applies to any large sporting event that maybe coming to town…

How can I grow my business when only so many dollars are spent on eyewear in my rural market?

The first thing to test about any rural location are your assumptions, says retail trainer Bob Phibbs. Don’t think that just because you operate from a small town, everyone in that market knows your services. Second, don’t assume that because you’re the only optician in town, people won’t go elsewhere. “People probably drive from farther away to reach your store, so as a business owner, you have to give them a good reason to keep coming back,” he says. Phibbs recommends doing your own research, including walking around your area and knocking on doors to find out how many people are aware of your services. (And if there is an art walk or some other business community event that will put you in touch with new groups of customers, sign up!) Second, test your hours. “If your store is closed on Sundays, you may be missing out on two of the top four money-making times,” he says. Third, through interactions with customers and even studying the license plates in your parking lot, find out where your customers are coming from. With this information, you will able to tweak your marketing and other outreach activities. It’s possible you could run targeted Facebook ads or rent billboard space to catch traffic from a much wider area.

I suspect a rival is trying to poach one of my best sales associates. Should I try to pre-empt them with a pay rise?

Happy employees don’t leave for a small amount of additional money, so the first thing to do is sit down with your associate and see if there are things you can do to remove any frustrations from her current work life or if there are perks (more flex time?) or professional challenges (responsibility for a big marketing campaign?) that could tempt her to stay. Throwing money at them is unlikely to help if you don’t remove what’s unsettled them in the first place (and unless you’re prepared for everyone else to know — as HR experts like to say, compensation is confidential for about 11 seconds). Staff churn is a natural part of business life, especially in a strong economy, and non-compete agreements are a blunt tool that workers resent. A better approach is to foster a great culture. Check in with your team periodically to make sure employees feel challenged, engaged and appreciated.

We still seem to be running into a lot of resistance to blue-light filtering lenses even after the doctor prescribes them. Any ideas?

It sounds like you have to do a bit more work before the patient reaches your opticians. Education should start in your waiting room with a video loop running to provide general information about blue light (and, in particular, how it can affect children, who are spending more and more time exposed to digital screens). Next, the pretest room, your assistants should start the conversation about lifestyles and eye use. ZEISS’s marketing materials recommend a line like, “I bet your eyes feel very tired at the end of the day with so much computer work. I’ll have the doctor talk with you about BluTech lenses to make you feel more soothed and protect your eyes from the blue light that is emitted from the screen.” It is now the doctor’s role to provide the authority, explain the benefits (better sleep, less strain, improved light sensitivity, prevention of potential conditions like macular degeneration,) and make a specific recommendation, as needed. In the best cases, the optician can then simply fill the Rx, but as with any sale, it’s the reassurance provided at the close that is key to generating customer satisfaction. Blue light pens, demonstration aids from your vendors, computer apps and physical comparisons with untreated lenses can all help here (tap your vendors for help). With the overriding emphasis on vision health, your patient should leave protected and satisfied.

How can I drive more word-of-mouth marketing?

Personal recommendations have always been the lifeblood of small business, but in the era of Facebook, Yelp and Google reviews, word of mouth (WOM) has taken on a different meaning and is now even MORE important to attract new customers and patients (studies show prospective customers attach as much credibility to an anonymous star rating as to a friend’s suggestion). It also requires a new, more tech-savvy response. Start by looking into an online review platform like Podium, Yotpo or Grade.us that centralizes the process and reaches out to customers via text messages to encourage them to leave reviews (search the phrase “online reputation management”). Of course, a larger megaphone won’t do you much good if the message is less than complimentary, so there’s still no getting away from the bedrock of WOM — excellent service. You can juice people’s experiences with your brand via community events, customer appreciation events, personal follow-ups, handwritten thank you notes, and those random acts of generosity or goodwill that drive surprise and referrals. Keep in mind that WOM is so fluid it requires constant testing and experimenting: What stories to tell people about your store, what offers, what inside incentives will work? For example, a “Thank you for the referral” card that includes a voucher for $25 off the next purchase might work in one market. In another, giving an existing customer the opportunity to pass on the discount to a friend — or share it — may yield better results. Keep testing!

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Since launching in 2014, INVISION has won 23 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at editor@invisionmag.com.

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Ask INVISION

Stop Setting SMART Goals, Set Vague Ones and More Questions for February

Plus how to handle suspected shoplifters and under-performing salespeople.

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After reviewing my sales team’s performance for the holiday season, I found I have one who underperformed hugely. She’s a lovely person but her numbers just don’t improve. Do we just persist with training?

It sounds like she has the right attitude and work ethic to succeed, just not in sales. Almost anyone can learn how to describe a product’s features (the knowledge), they can even learn how to ask the right open-ended questions to elicit a customer’s exact needs (a skill), but they’ll never learn how to push that prospect to get excited about a particular pair of glasses or a new vision technology and to commit at exactly the right moment. That is a talent some people just seem to be born with, says Marcus Buckingham, a leader of the play-to-people’s strengths school of business management. And besides, if she’s the worst performer in your store, she can’t be enjoying the work. It’s time to go your separate ways.

How do you suggest handling someone who is shoplifting in my store?

It’s good you’re asking; this is definitely an area where you do not want to be winging it, says Elie Ribacoff, president of New York-based Worldwide Security. Your policy on handling a suspected shoplifter should be part of your store or practice’s manual and developed in consultation with a qualified attorney, or local police to ensure laws are followed and that prosecution is effective. State laws vary but as a general rule suspicion is never enough — you need to observe the crime take place. As for confronting the person, there are obvious risks in confronting shoplifters. They may be violent, armed or working as part of a gang. And then there are the legal risks of trying to detain someone. As a general rule, it is nearly always better to be a good witness than to botch an arrest, says Ribacoff. Usually, the best approach is to have someone with a cellphone discreetly follow the shoplifter after he or she exits the store, and lead police to them.

Year after year, I set carefully plotted SMART goals for my staff, but we never attain them. Any idea what we’re doing wrong?

To the rational mind, it’s hard to argue with the S.M.A.R.T. mnemonic — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely — when it comes to goals. Except, of course, when it comes to managing humans, it’s best to be wary of anything that gives off the clinical odor of rationality. In the place of SMART goals, we thus propose an experiment for you: This year, try some Vague and Seemingly Irrelevant goals (yep, the sort of targets that can’t even be counted on to form a clever acronym). Clear goals such as “increase sales by 20 percent” can be motivating, but also set extra hurdles to fail at, which can throw the human mind into a tizzy. Vague goals, on the other hand, can be liberating.

As for “seemingly irrelevant,” the key word is the first: “seemingly.” This is management at a higher level. Identify the secret drivers to business success, be it the cheery baristas at Starbucks or the actions in your store that result in a positive review on social media, and you may actually get the specific financial results you desire. In his book The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, Oliver Burkeman tells the story of a Formula One pit crew whose members were told that they would no longer be assessed on the basis of speed targets; they would be rated on style instead. Instructed to focus on acting “smoothly,” rather than on beating their current record time, they wound up performing faster.

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Lifting Your Business Out of Mediocrity and More Questions for January

And how to share chores among staff to make sure they get done.

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I have two good candidates for the position of office manager, but I can’t decide between them. Can you suggest a tie-breaker?

Toss a coin and let fate be your arbiter. If they’re both equally appealing candidates and you can’t reduce the uncertainty by doing further research or interviews or trial runs, then your decision doesn’t much matter. That likely sounds like rash advice, but this paralysis you’re experiencing has a name: Fredkin’s Paradox. The computer scientist Edward Fredkin summed it up as, “The more equally attractive two alternatives seem, the harder it can be to choose between them — no matter that, to the same degree, the choice can only matter less.” To be sure, it will probably turn out to have mattered in hindsight, but by then it’ll be too late. Given that you’re unable to know how things will turn out, overthinking this one — or any similar tough choice — is futile.

How do you share the chores among staff fairly and in a way that is easy to enforce?

Store consultant David Geller feels he knows well the issues you’re facing. “Typically, we as store owners, when something isn’t done, pick our favorite person who is always willing to help to do what others should have done,” he says. “It’s not fair.” To create a system that IS fair, he suggests breaking your staff into groups and rotating the responsibilities. “Put some easy chores with some bad ones like vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom,” he says. The people whose names are under the different groups of chores (see table) do them for only one week, and then they move onto the next group of tasks. This shares around the bad and light chores and also makes it easy for the store owner to raise the issue when a job needs doing. “After doing this, I no longer need to complain to a person, I complain to a group,” Geller says.

Tell me, how do I lift my store out of the rut of mediocrity?

It’s said the toughest test of a manager is how they address lackluster performance. The reason is because it’s not so much about issuing dictates and drawing up policy as it is about fostering a culture that accepts nothing but excellence. Indeed, according to work by Brigham Young business school on high-performing teams, peers manage the bulk of the heavy lifting when it comes to maintaining standards. Counterintuitively, it is in mediocre teams that bosses must enforce standards and are the source of accountability. But how to get to that almost mythical land of self-enforced high standards? Joseph Grenny, a social scientist and author of Crucial Accountability, gives four leadership practices that can help: Start by showing the consequences of mediocrity, to connect people with the experiences, feelings, and impact of bad performance. Set clear goals and explain why they are important. “Use concrete measures to make poor performance painfully apparent,” says Grenny. Establish peer accountability so that people feel comfortable challenging one another when they see mediocrity. And be quick to defend the high standards. A chronic poor performer is an impediment to your goals. How you handle this situation will let your team know whether your highest value is keeping the peace or pursuing performance. “When you ask a group to step up to high performance, you are inviting them to a place of stress — one where they must stretch…where interpersonal conflicts must be addressed,” says Grenny. “If you shrink from or delay in addressing this issue … you send a message to everyone else about your values.”

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Promoting Healthy Competition and More Questions for Year’s End

Also, proper staff gift-giving etiquette and getting the most out of staff trainers.

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How do I tease out a prospective hire’s innate strengths and weaknesses during an interview?

Marcus Buckingham, a leader of the strengths-based school of business management, suggests asking this question (and revisiting it periodically if you do hire the person): What was the best day at work you’ve had in the past three months? “Find out what the person was doing and why he or she enjoyed it so much,” he says, adding it’s key to keep in mind that a strength is not merely something someone is good at. “It might be something they aren’t good at yet. It might be just a predilection, something they find so intrinsically satisfying that they look forward to doing it again and again and getting better at it over time.” The theory is that the best businesses are those that fully leverage the strengths (unbridled upside) of their employees as opposed to trying to fix up their weaknesses (never more than incremental gains).

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How can I promote competition among staff without it turning my store into the setting of Lord Of The Flies?

The key to fostering healthy competition, according to new research done by a team at Harvard Business School, lies in how you communicate the competition. When employees feel excited, they’re more likely to come up with creative solutions and new ways to better serve customers. When they feel anxious or worried they might lose their job or be publicly humiliated, they’re more likely to cut corners or sabotage one another. Leaders can generate excitement by highlighting the potential positive outcomes of competition (such as the recognition and rewards that await outstanding performers) rather than creating anxiety by singling out low performers (think of the steak knives scene in Glengarry Glen Ross).

What is proper etiquette for gift-giving in the workplace?

Your watchwords should be considerate, fair, and inclusive. Aim for gifts that can be shared and enjoyed by everyone such as food. (If people have diet restrictions, they can simply pass on the offering without making a big fuss.) If you do decide to give gifts to every staff member, steer clear of knick-knacks. Most people can barely see their desks as it is. The last thing they need is another coffee mug or pen-and-pencil set. Keep it clean. Do not consider gag gifts that rely on sexual innuendo or ethnic stereotypes to be funny. Do not give anything that could remotely be considered intimate. And be generous down the chain. Give your assistant or intern at least as nice a gift as the one you give your manager.

I’d like to hire a trainer for my staff, but I’m worried about the return on investment?

Our reason for existing at INVISION is to make ECPs better ECPs, and we believe professional trainers can help you enormously. To get your money’s worth, focus on two things: 1.) Hard skills. Overinvest in training that helps to increase ability versus motivation. Yes, it’s nice to have your staff leave a training session all fired up, but for lasting results that will give you that return on your investment, focus on small but vital aspects of your staff’s sales skills. It could be when to pause in a presentation or how many features to stress. Break tasks into discrete actions, practice within a low-risk environment and build in recovery strategies. 2.) This is just as important. Follow up. Bring in a trainer, but only if you yourself are willing to buy into their lessons and do ongoing training and reviews.

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