Lead or Follow, but Definitely Get Out of the Way!

Lead or FollowI got reminded of an important business concept this morning at a meeting with one of my business associates. His name is James, and he has great insight into all things business. If you want someone to review your business from beginning to end who can focus on the financials better than almost anyone I’ve met, get hold of James at On The Top Management.

Anyway, James and I were reviewing the website for one of my businesses and we started talking about obstacles that get in the way when potential new clients visit. He pointed out that you need to have a very clear idea of what action you want your web visitors to take, and that anything that slows them down or prevents them from taking that action should be eliminated. I couldn’t agree more, and if you want a really fun read on this topic, pick up Seth Godin’s book The Big Red Fez, which I’ve mentioned before. It’s all about making sure the monkey (your web visitor) knows exactly how to find the banana (the button or other action tool you want your visitor to push). But for now, let’s focus on getting rid of obstacles.

Let’s use the website for a martial arts school as an example. As a dojo (martial arts school) owner, I know I always want to show my visitors how cool our school is – our bright facility, our extraordinary instructors, our history, and the amazing techniques some of our people can do. But James suggested that most people who want to start martial arts probably have a lot more basic concerns.

Some of the issues he suggested were:

How do I get to the dojo?
Is it hard to find?
I’m nervous about going in by myself.
What class should I go to watch?
Will it be scary?

If he’s right about these concerns, then all the pictures and video of cool techniques might actually work against us. Brand new people who visit the site might be frightened by dramatic throws instead of reassured by how easy and safe the dojo looks. And our research shows that for most potential students, he’s exactly right!

In the larger world of business, you can see this process get played out again and again. Auto makers who show their cars in racing scenes and who emphasize horsepower are targeting a certain segment of the car-buying market, but they are also missing out when it comes to appealing to car buyers with more pedestrian concerns. On the other hand, Saturn went a long way toward capturing the buyers who just wanted a reasonably priced vehicle without having to go through the haggling process. There’s also a lot to be said for car makers who offer an online ordering process – potential purchasers can assemble the car of their dreams, trying out different feature packages and paint jobs, and they don’t have to actually place an order until they’re quite sure of what they want.

Just about every business could benefit from this “get out of the way” analysis. James manages a very successful import auto repair facility in Ann Arbor, and they do a better job of making non-car people comfortable than just about any shop I’ve ever visited. At the same time, customers have to drive into what is unquestionably a repair shop, with all the attendant noises, smells, and rough-looking guys with greasy hands. I know the guys there, and they’re very nice people, but a timid client might still be intimidated by the atmosphere. It’s just possible that if James could figure out how to make the place look and feel like a department store, he might win the business of the least car-savvy clients! I just hope he leaves out the annoying girls with the spray perfume bottles.

Anyway, a great thing to do for any business is to have an objective person look at your website and your client intake process and tell you about anything that seems confusing or frightening, or anything that takes customers away from the clear purpose of enrolling them in your sales process. You can then make a much more educated decision about where to focus your attention. If you do, you’re gonna like the way your business looks to potential customers… I guarantee it!

A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd