Our world today is evolving faster (technologically speaking), than it ever did in the past. Technology is constantly being improved to better suit our lifestyles and needs. Even before the high tech boom in the Silicon Valley in the 20th Century, the business world was in a constant race to be more creative and more innovative. How then, do we as business owners nurture a culture of innovation and creativity in the workplace to keep our companies thriving and progressing?
Innovation is not a mathematical equation that can be applied to a brand or company. Instead, it is an environment that is nurtured in such a way that leaders are able to unlock and harness the “light bulb” ideas that go off. Business leaders and owners can not just announce that the office is now an innovative office and encourage all staff to get thinking creatively. Rather, they must procure an environment, both physical and mental, that engages employees in a non-traditional way. Here are just a few suggestions to help you shape the environment in your company into an innovative one that allows for employees to be open and able to take risks in their thinking.
- Schedule Brainstorming – Teams should brainstorm at the beginning of each project. Bouncing ideas off each other can be helpful to mold and stretch ideas that may have been ignored in other traditional offices. All members of staff should be included in the brainstorming, not just the people with a “creative” title. During these sessions encourage “out-of-the-box” thinking by making it a safe place to say anything. Who knows one idea may spur another and so on.
- Rewards – Give rewards, even small ones for creative ideas around the office. This might include a longer lunch or a premium parking spot or a small gift card.
- Don’t be afraid to fail! Failure may seem negative, but it also means that you were not afraid to try. Even Ben Franklin failed hundreds of time before his experiment succeeded. 50 to 70 per cent of all new product innovations fail at even the most successful companies.
- The Physical Office – Make the office fun where ever possible. Google International allows for games, couches and even resting areas to get employees comfy and relaxed. A relaxed mind can think more creatively.
- Provide Education and Training – Learning should be a lifelong adventure. Give employees a chance to be learning and expanding their knowledge base. That knowledge will allow for more creative thinking.
- Allow Alone Time – Most of us think about the innovative process as a group of like-minded individuals pounding out the solution to a problem. Don’t forget to allow for some alone time for employees to really think through a solution.
All owners, managers, and leaders want their valued employees to have the proper tools and knowledge to succeed at their job. No department needs this more than the sales staff in your business. Correctly training your sales team can give them the appropriate tools and knowledge to take them from mediocre to a force to be reckoned with in no time. There are three main areas that sales team members should be trained. They should be thoroughly acquainted with the company’s products and services. They should be extremely familiar with the field that your company most especially close competitors. Finally, the sales team should be well-versed in sales techniques that are in line with the goals and personality of your brand. Here are some training tips for these three critical areas.
Product and Service Training –
- Have the sales team not only review the products but, if possible, witness the service that is provided so they have first hand knowledge and can speak from experience rather than a guidebook.
- Where possible, have the team use the product or shadow a service member so they can become aware of uses, problems and solutions that may be typical for your products/service.
- Have younger sales people “buddy” or “shadow” older sales team members so they can learn the ropes. They will quickly get used to common questions, answers and then be able to anticipate them in the future.
- Create a sales manual for easy reference when questions arise.
Industry Training –
- Hold regular sales team and staff meetings updating them on new innovations in your field.
- Make industry journals and websites easily available so sales staffers can keep up when they are in the office.
- Encourage staff to learn about competitors both local and national.
- Keep staff up-to-date on industry news with quick bulletins via email or newsletters.
- Encourage training sessions held regionally so sales people can see what the competition is all about.
Sales Skill Training –
- Give all sales members technology that will help them stay organized. For instance some sort of customer relations management software program is a good idea.
- Invest in sales training classes for newer members of your team.
- Hire not only with sales education and experience in mind, but also weigh the persons personality and how it jives with your product and services.
- Use role playing regularly or other techniques that could help in sales numbers.
- Keep rewards coming! Let all staff know about the chances for advancement or monetary rewards.
Welcome to the team! Here is a pack of forms that need to be filled out (in triplicate) for Human Resources, a room full of strangers that you will need to get to know and a company handbook that you will need to familiarize yourself with! And then you need to become a contributing member of our work team and fit in flawlessly.
If this seems like a bit much for a new employee then you need to work on your onboarding strategy to make for a smooth transition for all new hires. What used to be called orientation has now evolved into the latest business buzz word “onbboarding”. The orientation process of yesteryear has now become a more thorough process of acclimating a new hire in such a way that they become a productive and satisfied members of the staff. Onboarding goes beyond the paperwork and introductions of the first few days into strategies to deal with long term training, mentoring and scheduled milestones.
Onboarding Is Not the Same as Training. A study of 264 new employees published in the Academy of Management Journal found that the first 90 days of employment (often called the probationary period) is pivotal to building rapport with the company, management and coworkers. When support levels were high from the team and leaders, new hires often had more positive attitudes about their job and worked harder. When support and direction were not offered, the inverse occurred, leading to unhappy and unproductive employees who didn’t make it much further than four months. (Forbes)
So how do companies maximize the success rate and retention rate of their new hires? Here are some tips and pointers to consider for your onboarding program.
Prior to the Start Date – There are many things that need to be done before the new employee even sets foot in the door including: creating a job description, a list of duties, setting up work area including phone, tech and email accounts, arranging for meetings with critical members of the staff, and prepare for some time with human resources.
During the First Few Days – Those first few days can be anxiety ridden with both sides asking “Is it a “good fit”? Make those first days smoother by:
- reviewing job expectations
- matching employee up with a mentor
- allow for socialization time
- tours of the business
- continuing review of job policies
- technology training
During the First Months – Many companies fall off with onboarding around this time. Unfortunately, this is a time when a new employee may need further help reaching independence and the ability to mesh with the company brand.
- Continue having regularly occurring one-on-one meetings.
- Meet for informal three-month performance check-in
- Have employee “shadow” you at meetings to get exposure to others and learn more about the department and organization.
- Continue professional training and mentoring with a “buddy” in the office.
During the First Year –
- Create an employee development plan. (Short and long term.)
- Provide formal and informal feedback on job performance.
- Recognize positive employee contributions.
We have all heard the time honored adage that “The customer is always right!” Keeping the customer happy and coming back for business should be every company’s first priority – whether they are actually “right” or not. Maintaining a satisfied customer base is easier, more cost effective and takes less time than finding new customers. How, then, can businesses deliver excellent customer service, create personal relationships with customers and make customers feels appreciated?
Customer service is emerging as a critical differentiator for businesses. Small changes and personal interactions can mean a world of difference for clients to go from being a “customer” to being a “loya”l customer. Let’s look at some key components to meeting those customer satisfaction goals.
- Customer Service Plan – As a company, brainstorm and decide on your service goals. These goals should reflect interactions with both internal and external customers. What is the ultimate goal? Do you want to be known as efficient, helpful, honest, cost effective, or all of the above? Possibly list every time an interaction may happen. (In the lobby, on a sales call, via email, social media, or in person) What ways can customer service come into play in those circumstances?
- Explore the needs of the customers – Each customer has unique needs so try to explore what needs those are for your typical client base. Do you usually deal with small businesses so they are cost conscious and need to be made aware of special deals or sales? Do you service large companies that need large volumes of items? Look at the specific needs of your clients so you can solve their particular problems quickly and kindly.
- Go back to basics – A smile, a personal greeting or even a kind word can go a long way with customers. Don’t just hear what they say but really listen to what their needs are so that you can anticipate those needs as your relationship with them grows. It goes without saying that you should always be courteous and polite with the customer even if you don’t agree with their assessment.
- Follow up and Follow Through – Do what you promise and when questions and problems have not been resolved follow up to try to rectify the problem. In our digital age it is far too easy for a customer to post a bad review due to customer service issues. When you follow up on how the service went you will be confirming that the customer had a positive interaction and let them know that they matter to you and your business.
- Establish “customer friendly policies” -There really is nothing worse than having someone tell you that they don’t have the ability to help. Give employees the power and knowledge to fix problems that arise. Make rules bendable in case special circumstances come up with loyal customers. Eliminate policies that make dealing with customers rigid or routine in nature. Make it as personal as possible.
Social Media, meaning the myriad of social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, LinkedIn and so on, began in the mid 1990’s when Tina Sharkey, CEO of Babycenter.com and a former executive at iVillage and AOL coined the term. Since that time it has really taken hold with millions of users and billions of posts daily. However, social media is a fairly new marketing strategy for some companies. Keeping up with the posts, tweets, and images can be mind boggling to say the least. If you are a newbie to harnessing the power of social media you and your company may need some tips and strategies to get organized and make the social media beast more manageable. One of the best techniques to do this is to create a social media calendar or editorial calendar. Let’s look at the social media calendar, how to set it up and how to use it to benefit your marketing strategy.
While it may take only seconds to read a tweet, post or view an image, creating those posts can take planning and Herculean effort if you are not organized and prepared for what is to come. Here are some steps to start you in the right direction and get you posting, tweeting and linking in with the best of them!
- Brainstorm as a team – One of the first things your company and, in fact, your brand needs is a decision on what the message is that you want to send out into the social media cyber world. Do you want to give helpful tips, announce deals, promote an idea, educate about your field, or all of the above? What value will the reader gain from following your posts?
- Topic Lists – Once your team has brainstormed and decided what the main goal is for your social media campaign, you will want to continue brainstorming a list of topics that will be used for blogs, videos, posts, tweets and “pins”. This list can be linked to your social media calendar so that adding to it and using it will be easy. Be sure to get authorization that each topic is in line with your main goal.
- Write, create, or film –Now that you have an approved list of topics, you can start writing. Stockpile as many of these as possible and keep them linked to your social media calendar. By planning ahead you can be mindful of holidays, special events on the horizon or important dates in your field.
- Start Scheduling – Using your own template or one that you have decided may work for your company such as Hootsuite, Sproutsocial, or Hubspot start scheduling out your posts. Finding the right number and the right time of day for your audience to post may take some trial and error but a quick google for your field of best times to posts can help.
- Use Analytics – Every social media campaign should not only be organized into a day/month calendar but also use the tools of analysis to see if the social media posts are doing what you planned. Did you gain more followers or have a spike in sales?
Creating a social media calendar can hep you clarify your goals, decide on content and get your social campaign organized right down to the day and time you want your audience to see your post!