Communication The Key To Success

Jim Blasingame

"What we've got hee-ya, is a fell-ya, to communicate."

Surely this is one of the most repeated lines in all of cinema -- at least the spirit of the line, if not the pronunciation.

They were spoken by the chain gang captain (played beautifully by Strother Martin) to the rebellious convict Luke Jackson (played by Paul Newman in an Academy Award-nominated performance) in the 1967 movie, Cool Hand Luke.

Luke refused to conform to prison life and adhere to the "communication" that was given to him. The price he paid for his failure to comply included multiple forms of punishment.

Failure to communicate is also a problem found much too often in the marketplace. Sadly, there are millions of cases every day where a customer could justifiably say to a business -- large ones and small ones -- "What we've got hee-ya, is a fell-ya, to communicate."

Business owners should realize that customers are a lot like chain gang captains, because in many ways, they control our lives. But there are three things that make the relationship with our "bosses" different from the one Luke had with his:

  1. The responsibility for communicating is on us, not our "bosses."
  2. Customers usually don't come right out and tell us there is a communication failure.
  3. Our punishment comes only in one form: we merely lose their business.

And as if #3 isn't bad enough, our punishment is compounded by the fact that we are not only at risk of losing business from actual customers who gave us a chance and found us wanting, but also from the people they tell about this failure, plus the prospective customers with whom we fail to connect, and therefore, never meet.

Life as a business owner would be a lot simpler if customers and prospects would just tell us when we're not getting our message across. But as another example of why, if running a business were simple, monkeys would be doing it, that obligation is ours alone.

One of our excellent Brain Trust members, Floyd Hurt, says communication with customers and prospects improves when we understand the relationship between what he calls the "four Ps and the four Cs." The four Ps are: product, price, place, and promotion. The four Cs are: customer value, cost, convenience, and communication.

The first list is usually how owners see things as we plan, strategize, and operate our businesses in an effort to penetrate the marketplace. Obviously, we must focus on these four issues to be successful. But Floyd reminds us that focusing on these four without integrating them with the four Cs, is what creates the failure to communicate.

The second list -- the four Cs -- is how our customers and prospects see things as they actively and passively go about their lives. To make sure we don't have a "fell-ya to communicate" with our bosses, Floyd says we must make the connection between the four Ps and the four Cs this way:

1. Product + Customer Value: Product must be connected with customer value.
What we sell is a big deal to us, isn't it? Think about it -- how often do we actually define who we are by what we sell? When someone asks us what we do, we say, "I own a carpet company," or "We sell men's clothes," or "I have a wholesale distribution business."

But what if, after we give one of these answers, we're asked this follow-up question: "What do you do for your customers?"

The first answers were all about product. But the answer to the follow-up question must go beyond product and speak directly to the issue of customer value. How long does it take us to answer that question?

When it comes to our products, customers could not possibly care less, because they can get whatever we sell dozens of ways, in dozens of places, and many of these at a price that's way below ours.

What customers want is product delivered in a way that makes a difference to them. Only then have we delivered value. It's all about our customers, not us.

2. Price + Cost: Price must be considered with total cost to the customer.

Two issues here: What customers need vs what they want; and the true cost.

Want vs Need
Humans need certain things, like food. But they also want certain things, like a dining experience. When it comes to what they need, they will seek the lowest price. Need is a commodity. But what they want, properly delivered, sells at a premium. And in that word "premium" we find the ability to not only sell against the competition, but also the profit margin we need to be a successful small business owner.

True Cost
More and more, customers are realizing that the most valuable thing they have in the world is not their money or their stuff, but their time. Smart businesses communicate the true cost of acquiring the things their customers buy, including the time involved. And these smart businesses are not afraid to charge for delivering value that includes saving that most precious of all commodities -- time. This may be the most important tool as we compete with the Big Boxes.

3. Place + Convenience: Place must be defined by convenience.

Floyd says we should not think of place as where we are, but rather where our customers want us to be. Today, our business's place may be a physical address, but it should also include a virtual address.

Place should really be understood as where the transaction takes place -- where the goods and money change hands. And in the 21st century, that point-of-sale can be many places.

If we only have one "place;" if we don't understand the dynamics of "place" in the 21st century marketplace, we will suffer the simple, but extreme, punishment of those "bosses" who more and more are demanding that THEY get to define where "place" is.

4. Promotion + Communication: Promotion must successfully communicate, not manipulate.

When we promote ourselves to customers and prospects, we must be able to:

  • Communicate that we can deliver product AND value.
  • Deliver a message of total cost, not just price.
  • Move our "place" wherever our customers say is most convenient for them.
  • Do all of this with a style that communicates without manipulating.

Write this on a rock... "Fell-ya to communicate" with our bosses is a capital crime in the 21st century marketplace, punishable by death of our business.

Jim Blasingame
Small Business Expert and host of The Small Business Advocate Show
©2008 All Rights Reserved

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