The Internet has become the new Colosseum of retailing competition

Here are a few interesting facts Katie Mihell (Head of Women in Focus CBA) learnt during a presentation by Ralph Waters, Chairman of Woolworths Limited at Trans-Tasman Chairmen’s Insights Series (December 2013):

  • Only 7% of the market shops at Woolworths for all their grocery needs
  • Independent grocery retailers have actually grown market share in recent years
  • Woolworths employs 180 000 Australians, 150 new employees start work every day, it makes an annual contribution of $7 billion to the nation’s wage bill and $111 billion to the Australian economy
  • 100% of its meat and 96% of its fresh produce is sourced from Australian growers, the other 4% is counter-seasonal or produce where Australia has an insufficient supply
  • Of its 60,000 lines, only 6% are private labels, at Aldi, 95% of its stock is its own brand
  • More than $1 billion of its sales are online

Mr Waters was speaking to the challenges of competition in the Australian supermarket retailing industry.

Why Don’t People Listen

by Hugh Mackay

isbn: 0-330-35595-3

This is a great book but a very long read.  Mackay uses a family (husband and wife (second marriage) with 2 children) everyday communication as the back drop to demonstrate how and why our communication goes so wrong. 
I’m sure as you read this book, you will recognise yourself several times and think ah-ha that is why I didn’t get my message across! 

Some of my favourite snippets are:
• It’s not what our message does to the listener, but what the listener does with our message, that determines our success as communicators.

• When we speak of a powerful message, we are really referring to the power of the message to evoke a response, not to shoot a bullet of meaning into the mind of another person.

• We are the prisoners of our experiences.

• We don’t only perceive and interpret selectively; we remember and forget selectively, as well.

• The cage is one of our most powerful psychological weapons.  It gives us the ability to shape the world to our liking.  In communication, it (the cage) allows us to deal with messages in a way which confirms what we already thought or what we had expected to hear – even when that was not the intention of the speaker.

• Listeners generally interpret messages in ways that which make them feel comfortable and secure.

I do encourage you to read or at least flip through this book.

Business etiquette

Extract from Smart Company 3/01/12

  • I will not be late for meetings.
  • If being late in unavoidable, I will make a short, genuine apology and get on with it. I will not make long-winded excuses.
  • I will use my iPhone, Blackberry and/or iPad in a considerate manner.
  • I will not tweet and talk simultaneously.
  • I am capable of turning off electronic devices or at least switching them to silent mode.
  • I will respond to emails in a timely, courteous way.
  • I will resist the urge to use emoticons.
  • I will RSVP.
  • I will introduce people in social situations.
  • I will pay attention to a person’s name when I am being introduced and make an effort to memorise it.
  • I will not guess how many months pregnant women are.
  • I will not make assumptions about someone’s sexuality or ethnicity.
  • I will not act in an overly familiar way with new acquaintances, new clients and potential new investors – and will avoid discussing sex, politics, religion.
  • I am capable of listening to a presentation/keynote address without looking at my iPhone, iPad or Blackberry.
  • I will eat, sneeze, entertain clients and behave in a culturally sensitive and professional manner at all times.

How do you rate against these points?

CARE Principle

Extrace from Smartcompany 7/12/11

You should be:
• Consistent in delivery of your service.
• Accurate in quoting, pricing or advice.
• Reliable, which builds trust.
• Enthusiastic no matter what doom there is.

Just CARE for clients, just CARE for staff and importantly, just CARE with your family.


100 Great Business Ideas

by Jeremy Kourdi
Isbn 978-462-09960-6

Another book to add to your bookshelf – well at least to your library list to have a read of!  Each chapter is limited to 2 pages and concludes with an “in Practice” to help you implement the ideas in business.  While the ideas vary from running a business, managing a team, marketing the business irrespective whether you work in a business or own a business I think there is value in this book.

My favourite chapters were Bumper-sticker strategy, Information dash boards and monitoring performance, Balancing core and the context, Built-in obsolescence, Precision marketing, Rethinking the budget, the balanced scorecard, Value innovation, and The leadership pipeline.  Now while you might be thinking “I’m up on all of these topics”, I find each of us have so many things happening that having a short reminder and a practical way to assist you to implement a great idea is always refreshing.

One of the ideas that I have implemented involved re-writing the closing page of each of my face-2-face training courses to include a paragraph on how participants can go to my online learning site if they want to get more information.
Another topic that I have implemented is creating a weekly dashboard to monitor my life. 
The dashboard has indicators that let me know that I’m on track with my personal and business goals.

301 ways to use Social Media to boost your Marketing

by Catherine Parker
isbn: 978-0-07-173904-7

You may have heard the horror stories about social media. Conversely you will have heard the good fortune stories about people finding their lost friends and relatives. The question is – Does social media have a relevance to business?

The simple answer is YES. This book believes you can build brand and product awareness using social media, BUT it stresses you do need time and a strategy. Just joining Facebook isn’t going to do it for you.

So what is social media in a business context? It is web tools and websites that allow a conversation to take place between you and your target market.

Reported statistics speak volumes about the potential of social media, for example, during 2010 Facebook reached over four million users, Twitter receives around 50 million updates each day.

Social media’s accessibility stems largely from the scalable nature of the Web, as well as the fact that most tools are easy and free to use. So you don’t need special technical skills or extraordinarily deep pockets to run a successful social media campaign. The only real things you need to be successful on the social media scene are a good strategy and a healthy dollop of time – this I can testify to with my playing with different forms of social media over Christmas.

So how can this book help you? Firstly it can explain in simple terms the different categories of social media, how each can assist your business, key advantages, strengths, weakness and opportunities. One of the key messages is ‘use less rather than more’ and ‘take action’. The book also writes about linking the various social media tools to minimise your efforts. I strongly recommend this book if you haven’t got into this space yet.

Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire

By Mireille Guiliano. isbn: 978 1 84737 440 0

Next time someone next asks me “What is your philosophy of doing business?” I will just hand them a copy of this book. Yes, this book is a mirror image of how I believe business professionals (and not just women) should conduct themselves in business.

This book has many tips and aspiring stories to build your confidence (at any stage of your business career) and the author has also tackled some business topics that no-one wants to talk about. Perhaps you may consider some of these topics ‘light-on’ such as how to handle your emotions at work; business dress-sense; how to conduct yourself in business entertaining (whether at home or out). I believe that after reading the chapter on ‘Branding’ you will see how these fundamentals will contribute to your business signature.

The book was easy to read and had an interesting title for each chapter. Here are some of my favourite chapters and tips within:

• The principle of enlightened self-interest: Mireille acknowledges “We live in a 24/7/365 business world and the demands always to ‘be on’ are intense”. Mireille suggests the way to survive is to ‘to know thyself’ and act with enlightened self-interest. This requires you to step out of your immediate body full of instant passions, anger, love, jealousy and perhaps even hate and to make a cold analysis of your situation in its content before acting. Not always easy but Mireille gives some great tips on how to do this.

• Of velvet gloves, words, and handshakes: One of the greatest challenges we have in the business world is communication and this chapter covers some of the fundamentals that should be taught in every business course including – how to make a PowerPoint presentation; greeting business people (do you kiss them or give them a hand-shake, including how to do a handshake); giving feedback; mentoring others plus other great basics.

• Paint yourself orange: My favourite paragraph in this chapter is “What do people think of when they think of you as a brand? If you don’t stand out with a clear identity, you are lost in a sea of indistinguishable peers. If you have business ambitions, you don’t want to be a commodity, something perceived as commonly available, unspecialized and easily exchangeable with another product of the same type. … You need to be known for your unique qualities, and that means being recognized.” This chapter also covers some great tips on company branding.

• Whose success?: Mireille believes many women ‘want it all’, but she says that is not possible unless you manage your expectations and those of the people closest to you of what ‘having it all’ means. This is a great chapter for those over-achievers.

The book’s subtitle is ‘business sense and sensibility’ and I believe it lives up to this. I hope you will enjoy this book as much as I did.

Extraordinary Circumstances – The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower

A big change in tempo from last month’s book review.  This month I read “Extraordinary Circumstances – The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower” by Cynthia Cooper (isbn: 978-0-470-12429-1)

In this book Cynthia recounts her journey from her upbringing in Mississippi to being a working mother, covering topics of corporate success, the pressures of becoming a whistleblower and being named Time’s 2002 Person of the Year.  The book focuses on pressures and challenges that Cynthia and her team felt as they unravelled the financial mystery behind telecom titan WorldCom and the importance of paying attention to their instincts.

The book is a strong reminder that ethical decision-making is not an easy choice, and that you must find strength and courage to defend what you believe in.

While you may find some of the financial references a little challenging, the story is a very moving encounter of the professional growth of a business woman, the passion of an owner and the rise and fall of a dynamic company.  The book did leave me wondering if the right persons were charged but it definitely strengthened my passion for fighting for what I believe in.

In the Epilogue, Cynthia writes about her 10 lessons.  Here is an extract of them (page 365-6):
1.  Know what you believe is right and wrong.  Write down the values you will live by and what you will do if your values collide.  Is your moral compass pointed in the right direction?  Are your priorities in the right order?
2.  When making a decision, apply the Golden Rule: Treat other people the way you would want to be treated.  “If you lived each day as though it were your last, what would you do differently?”
3.  Guard against being lulled into thinking you’re not capable of making bad decisions.  Each of us is imperfect and must protect against giving in to temptation.  Keep in mind that what is legal and what is ethical are sometimes different.  For example, giving the WorldCom CEO loans to cover personal debt was legal at the time, but was it the right decision?
4.  Ask yourself: Would I be comfortable with my decision landing on the front page of a newspaper?  Would I be okay with my parents, professors and mentors knowing about my choice?  What are the potential consequences of my actions?
5.  Practice ethical decision making every day.  “Good and evil both increase at compound interest,” wrote C.S. Lewis.  “That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance.”  Ask yourself, did the decisions I made today coincide with my values?
6.  Discuss tough ethical dilemmas with others you respect.
7.  Find your courage.  Most people want to be part of a team.  But groupthink can be dangerous, and the team can be like a herd of bison that follow one after another over the cliff’s edge. Courage is acting in the face of fear.  If we practice finding our courage in smaller matters each day, we’ll stand a better chance of keeping the courage of our convictions when we come to the crossroads of more critical decisions.
8.  Apply the same code of ethics whether at home, work, school, or a house of worship.  Compartmentalising can result in acting different ways in different environments instead of being one unified self.
9.  Pay attention to your instincts.  If something doesn’t feel right, it may not be.  Stop, step back, and re-evaluate the situation.
10.  Above being loyal to your superiors, be loyal to your principles.  Don’t assume that what superiors are telling you is right just because they are in positions of authority.

I strongly encourage you to read this book.  In Cynthia’s closing paragraph she writes “in the end, life is about choices.  Our challenge is to choose well.”

What is an activity that everyone practices but few people succeed at?


Good communication is vital for a business to run smoothly and profitably, yet we often do it so poorly.   Why? 

Two things prompted me to write this article:

(1) I am presently reading Stephen R. Covey The 8th Habit which refreshes your recollection of the 7 habits of highly effective people; Habit 5 is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.  How many communicators do this? 

For example, at a recent training course, a participant asked a question of the trainer who rattled off an answer.  I doubted the answer addressed the question which was a fundamental part of the subject matter for the remaining two hours of the course.  My doubts were later confirmed by the way the participant spoke about the trainer. 

So how could this have been overcome?  Well, as Stephen Covey suggests, the trainer didn’t seek to understand what the person was trying to ask.  Nor did the trainer ask if he had answered the question before continuing with the content.  While each step can take time (and we were pressed for time in the training course) it is better to clarify the issue before going to the next step, as the whole relationship (or content in this case) can break down or be wasted.
(2) My own self-learning!  I was asked to give a presentation on communication – to which I politely and promptly answered “I’m not the right person”.  Now what I did was jump to the conclusion that this organisation wanted me to talk about written communication.  You see, I secretly hate writing (PS – by the way they did not want me to do that at all!).  What I did, as I see/hear numerous people doing, is jump to my own (non-)preferred communication style and assumed that this will (or want in my case would not) work!

Communication is a tool that will help you build a profitable business provided that you consider all modes of communication when interacting with people.  Just because you like to receive an SMS don’t assume the receiver does.  If you prefer to receive an email, check if this is suitable to the other person.  They might like a phone call or SMS!  So talk to your clients and ask them how they would prefer you to communicate with them.

Are you involved in a hate fest?

A response to a blog of mine, “What do your customers really think of you?”, got me thinking about a situation I recently encountered.

The respondent suggested: “Attempts to get useful feedback from your customers usually end up being a hate fest.”

Now while I think a “hate fest” is a little severe, customers can get extremely frustrated in trying to deal with businesses. So what can businesses do to ensure their customers do not get in this state?

Let’s set the stage: I have been a client of a certain mobile phone dealer for around 12 years. Every two years I faithfully come in to buy the latest mobile phone and continue on with my plan.

When a competitor calls to entice me to switch, I remain faithful, saying: “No, thank you, as I am happy with my dealer and provider.”

Well, if a competitor called today, that could change!

Last October I purchased from my dealer an additional mobile number (to be put in an old mobile phone that was purchased from them).

The dealer’s rep talked about the benefits of having another business number associated with my number, including free SMS and calls between both phones. I thought this benefit would enhance my bottom line, so I signed on with all of the options (answering service, etc).

Within a week I found the new number didn’t have the answering service, so I trotted back to the dealer and we got that fixed.

The November bill came and on investigation I found the calls and SMS between each phone had been charged. So I went back to the dealer (bill in hand) to talk about the benefits that had been promised but not forthcoming.

I spoke to a new rep, who said I had to talk to the phone company customer service people, so I did, and after two calls they promised it would be fixed.

The December bill came and – Guess what? – the text messages were free from one phone, but the calls from both were charged for. So I trotted off to the dealer again, talking about my long-standing relationship with them and suggesting I needed their assistance to fix this problem.

They said they would fix it and they would get back to me! I didn’t get a call but the next bill came completely free, so I thought: “Great, they have given me a present to say sorry and everything is fixed.”

The February bill has arrived and I am back to the beginning, being charged for calls between each mobile. So I went down again to the dealer and found myself talking to yet another representative, who apologised for the situation and said he would get back to me within the week.

Well, as you guessed, no call and another bill and nothing had changed. So I called again, this time to the principal, asking who could help me resolve this situation.

This time I did get a call back, I was told it has been fixed and I now await the next bill.

Hate fest? No. Extreme frustration? YES!

How can a business avoid having an extremely frustrated client? A simple call at any time to say “Just want to check if the bill is right” could have avoided most of the anguish.

PS: When they fixed the billing last week, someone turned off my SMS feature!