Firm Honored Sanders Hails Value

    GRAND RAPIDS — Yahoo! Leadership Coach and former Chief Solutions Officer Tim Sanders delivered an energetic and ambitious message to the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Celebration Luncheon at DeVos Place last Wednesday, calling for nothing short of a complete change in how many companies traditionally do business.

    “The only reason to give a speech is to change the world,” Sanders began. “If a speaker sucks, it isn’t because he or she didn’t deliver the speech well, it’s because they didn’t have anything to offer that can change the world.”

    At Yahoo!, Sanders was responsible for delivering next-generation marketing programs to world class brands and leveraging resources to add value to his clients’ growth strategies. He also is the author of the internationally best-selling book “Love is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends.”

    Sanders explained that the small business is better suited to make the changes needed for success in a rapidly changing economy. He outlined three “breakout” methods that follow trends within the labor and consumer markets. Customers and employees, he explained, “want different things today then they wanted five years ago, and radically different things today then they wanted 10 years ago.

    “If your business is in synch with the 1980s, you will quickly go broke.”

    The visionaries of today, those who get the best talent to work for them and lead the healthiest companies, know how to empathize with their employees and customers. They make decisions knowing the feelings of both the customer and employee. Big and small businesses alike do not practice empathy nearly enough, he said. “They think about how they feel, not how others feel.”

    Sanders’ three strategies teach companies and managers how to practice that empathy, through a process called ESP.

    “Not extra-sensory perception,” he joked. “I can just see the headline now, ‘Speaks on extra-sensory perception to businessmen.’ I am talking about experience, simplicity and people.”

    Today’s economy is one centered around experience, as in delivering a customer an experience, not just a product.

    “If you truly believe that the purpose of your business is to provide services and products,” he said, “you will soon be antiquated. That is, there will be another business that will come along and take many of your customers.”

    In the beginning, the strongest and most successful companies all had core competencies in extracting things: companies that tore minerals from the ground or turned forests into lumber. Competition was founded on quality and price.

    Next, the strength of the economy moved to companies with a core competency of making things. Companies competed through what features were offered; “new and improved” became a staple of marketing dialect.

    After that, there began a service revolution. Companies were forced to either attach a service with their product or suffer dramatically in the marketplace. Sanders used IBM’s near collapse against the service-driven philosophies of Dell and Gateway as an example.

    Now, the marketplace is quickly turning into an “experience economy.”

    “You have to stage an experience that is memorable and engaging, inspiring loyalty to emotion,” he explained. “Today there is a core competency in staging experiences.”

    A good analogy is the evolution of the birthday celebration. A few generations ago, a birthday was generally celebrated by baking a cake. Even today, with some time and effort a homemade cake can be produced from scratch for around $1. That practice gave way to the cake mix. For only $2, a cake could be produced by just throwing the mix into a pan, adding an egg and some water, and popping it in the oven for an hour.

    A generation ago, a bakery would not only provide the cake for you, but even deliver it. Today that would cost around $10.

    Now, you get the cake at Chuck E. Cheese’s as part of the birthday experience, for around $100.

    Another strong example of the trend is Starbucks. Everyone else just serves coffee, whereas Starbucks stages an experience, and as a result has no problem charging $3 for a cup of coffee.

    “There are different ways that everyone can encourage the customer experience,” he said. “The way the product makes you feel; the way it is perceived in public. And you need to get your people to learn to be more compassionate about customer experience — get them off ‘power point crack’ and get your customer service some kind of a sense of humor.

    “This particular point (experiential marketing) is an important opportunity you need to take advantage of. Don’t think, ‘I make cars.’ Think, ‘I fuel the driving experience.’”

    Sanders also explained how an overabundance of options is ruining the customer experience. Companies like Hewlett-Packard and Acura have seen enormous growth as a result of streamlining their product lines.

    “Keep it simple, stupid,” Sanders said of the traditional KISS acronym. “It’s like skinny ties — it’s back. Give them one choice, or do the profiling and make the selection for them.”

    Sanders’ third point, the “people” part of the equation, emphasized the assets within a company and a need for employee stewardship. Companies that approach their leadership model with faith and not fear will be best suited for growth when the economy improves. The others will be devastated when their employees quit their jobs as the labor market improves.

    The 2004 Small Business of the Year, GYMCO Sports, fits well into Sanders’ vision. Doreen Bolhuis’ company provides a variety of sports programs for young children, including gymnastics, martial arts and cheerleading.

    “This (award) serves as inspiration for us as we go forward as a company and work to build happy, healthy lives,” she said.    

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