Monday, July 14, 2008

Book Review: Customer Approved Small Business

Does this book give hope to young businesses?

Schell, Michael. The Customer Approved Small Business.

Approved Publications Inc. Vancouver, British Columbia 2005.

By The Small Biz. Guru, Zane Schweer

It is 3:11am. He just downed his seventh cup of coffee. The dog is speaking French and the significant other is threatening to walk out… again. Yet, the ever-persistent entrepreneur and/or business owner is awake, plotting, and creating a business to make his/her dream a reality. However, these late night sessions could be just a waste of time unless this visionary develops a sound design and plan to make his idea a reality. This is where Michael Schell, CEO and President of the Approved Group of Companies comes to rescue the bleary eyed business hopeful. Having twenty-plus years in business-to-business sales, Michael Schell and his team surveyed 228 buyers, conducted 330 interviews, and recorded the answers to 4,327 questions with the hopes of developing an easy-to-understand, basic platform to build one’s business. This book is different from others in that it is written from the perspective of the customer.

An emerging businessman can develop a service or product that solves all the problems plaguing a particular market, but if the proper foundation is not established, appropriate clients not targeted, and proper business professionalism not exhibited, the venture is destined to perish. The Customer Approved Small Business is based on numerous business secrets that revolve around the foundation of solid business practices, development of new business, and how to tie it all together.

The forward focuses on the fact that clients in today’s markets are less likely to show loyalty to one business. People go where the overall experience and service meets and exceeds expectations. Therefore, the importance of listening to the customer and curtailing the business model to embrace that premise is critical. Let us not forget that there is a sixty percent rate of failure for a business in its first five years. So, Schell stresses the idea of “measure twice, cut once” and “plan, plan, then execute”. Thus, I decided to refer to this book as a manual/handbook because it gives great instructions and helpful tools to begin to build a well-functioning business that evolves to the volatile market-place.

This manual plunges into building a business foundation. The foundation is built upon ensuring operational efficiency and effectiveness. Schell believes this is achieved by developing manuals (processes, job descriptions, missions). Well written handbooks help to avoid confusion as a business grows and, inevitably, becomes more complex. Thus, it helps to avoid the development of the “micro manager”. We have all had them and the strain they impose in the workplace environment is detrimental to overall goals. Mr. Schell gives tips on how to standardize each process and effectively eliminate the guess work. However, I do feel that a smaller business at the onset should not have as strict predefined roles. Most of the time, smaller businesses have employees that deal with numerous areas in the business and restricting them to specific roles may do more harm than good. While Mr. Schell believes (and rightly so) the ultimate goal of developing manuals is to withstand turn over and, thereby, maintaining stability in business practices.

As the book progresses, Schell examines the development of new business. Whether it is building the prospect database (industries, contacts, locations, etc), cultivating strategies to influence the decision makers, creating ISPS (industry specific positing statements), or telling us, the readers, what not to do during that initial sales call, he provides useful tips that every businessman/woman should know.

A serious pitfall for eager salespeople is to try to make a sale on the first call. I strongly agree. For a business to be “customer approved” according to this book, it is all about developing relationships and showing respect for a potential client’s time. Concentrate on providing a solution that meets the needs of the potential new purchaser. Sales will follow.

Understanding that the first 30 seconds of a call or meeting can make or break one’s success / clinching business, Schell provides tips on ways to The Customer Approved Small Business gives great examples of ways to write opening statements, primary reason statements, and key point statements because those initial thirty-seconds of a call or meeting make or break any hopes of success. As a business continues to grow and hire more employees, having this book as a resource gives the “newbies” a great way to draft their own statements instead of some cookie-cutter elongated paragraph. Getting a new-hire up to speed as quickly as possible increases the opportunity for profitability. I wish I was given this book when I started my job.

The most important sections in this book are the chapters honed in on planning and organizing meetings, developing an overall organization’s structure, and the “What the Buyers Say” sections. The “What the Buyers Say” is spread throughout the book. These tid-bits are notes and comments from business owners themselves regarding how they like to be approached and how they ultimately decide who earns their business. In addition, there are survey percentages given in regards to how many businesses put into practice certain ideas and the average rating of importance. For example, “I prefer to be asked for a moment of my time, but only about 20% of representatives do it” (Schell, pg 33). This was in reference to sales calls. These tid-bits scattered throughout the book are to re-enforce the theme of respecting client’s time and showing the ideal ways to conduct business.

As organization is one of the lifelines to a successful business, Schell gives concrete advice on how to create structure within the business, increase effectiveness of meetings, phone calls, mission statements, and ways to position oneself as an expert in the respective industry. In particular, the sections on developing an agenda before meetings to maximize time and guidelines for conducting follow up phone calls/meetings are excellent templates for anyone starting out or a seasoned veteran looking to fine tune.

Overall, The Customer Approved Small Business does a great job providing advice on laying a sound foundation through the use of manuals, processes, people, and plans. Then, Schell leads the business owner on how to take those plans and ideas and organize them, develop strong mission statements, and adapt to the ever changing business environment. Receiving tips from professionals who actually interact and make decisions based on what they have experienced gives this book an added bonus. The commentary and survey results help guide any start-up business in the right direction. At the end of the day, 60% of all entrepreneurs who set out to fulfill their dreams fail within in the first five years. This book will not save the business owner, but it does harness key knowledge that will ignite the spark that will hopefully burst into full-fledge flames.

~the GURU

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