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Have you ever noticed that, almost always, if you want to buy some milk from a convenience store, medium sized supermarket or a huge superstore, the milk is usually stored against the back wall.

In my local Asda, Tesco and Morrison’s, the milk is right at the back. In the Sainbury’s, it’s in an aisle close to the back.

Milk is a popular item and it is something that many people buy. You’d have thought that, for convenience, a shopper friendly store would have a refrigerator quite close top the entrance so that people who only want milk can grab it quickly.

I can’t think of anywhere that happens.

Instead the supermarkets force you to go deep into their store and past a large number of end of the aisle promotions offering BOGOFs or twofers. These “bargains” inevitably tempt many to slip something extra into their baskets.

Supermarkets may argue that it mains sense for them to put milk at the back for reasons that don’t involve hijacking your wallet.

Milk is heavy and therefore hard to transport. Of course so are cans of coke, bottles of beer and wine but they are rarely kept at the back.

Then there is the fact that milk has to be kept refrigerated so putting the refrigerators near the exist is likely to push up their costs because of heat coming in from outside. I’m not sure that excuse is genuine. I can think of stores with a nice convenient refrigerator full of ice cold drinks near the checkout points.

We also know that high margin, easy to forget items are deliberately put by the tills along with some tempting impulse purchases. Batteries are by the till but they will be a high price, high profit brand. The same applies to headache pills. the store doesn’t have generic paracetamol or ibuprofen but the branded alternatives. The same drug but three times the price.

This Is Not A Rant About Supermarkets

Can you learn from these “best practices” of supermarkets and apply similar lessons to your business?

It’s probably simple if you are also a retailer. You may be able to think of “essentials” that can be spread out around the store to get people in deep. You may also be able to think of a few tempting high margin impulse buys that solve a problem or satisfy a desire.

What about other types of business? Can you apply this logic or is customer convenience the driving force?


How To Measure Marketing Activities

Marketing is a critical activity for any business that is not in a monopoly supply position or operating in a marketing where demand overwhelms the ability to supply. But how can you measure marketing and know if it is working?

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is I don’t know which half” is a famous quote from John Wanamaker, a department store entrepreneur in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

One hundred years later, it’s still a sentiment that many business owners and senior managers can relate to.

The Two Types Of Marketing

I normally talk about the two types of marketing being the difference between search marketing and outreach marketing:

  • Search marketing – making sure your business is found when a customer or prospective customer is looking for suppliers.
  • Outreach marketing – reaching out to target potential customers to encourage them to take action to contact you before they begin searching more generally.

Today I want to refer to a different two types of marketing activities:

  • Brand building – promotional activities to increase the awareness of a brand name and (hopefully) the brand positioning, i.e. what the brand stands for and means.
  • Direct response marketing – actions taken to encourage a customer to make contact with you immediately.

There is some crossover since direct response advertising can also help to build brand awareness depending on the extent to which the business name and any slogan is emphasised in the promotions. [click to continue…]


I’ve had three people ask me how to sell (more) premium priced watches online.

This popularity is part of the problem. It appears to be an attractive market to be in from the seller’s perspective with an interesting product and a high transaction value. However some of the underlying issues make the opportunities for success very limited including how comparatively easy it is to set up a business selling watches online.

Winning The Watch Buyer’s Confidence & Trust

I can’t emphasise enough the importance of winning the buyer’s confidence and trust. Premium watches are an expensive purchase for most people and they have a natural fear that things may go wrong with the transaction. You know if you can be trusted (or not) but they don’t.

The easiest way to understand is for you to put yourself in a similar buying position where you are spending a few hundred pounds online. It doesn’t work so well if you’re using imaginary money but you may get part of the way there but you won’t have the risk of loss.

I’d try two types of products

– an unbranded item where you have uncertainty about the quality.

– a branded item, where, if genuine, the quality shouldn’t be an issue but where you have a nagging doubt on whether you can get a better deal for exactly the same item elsewhere.

This will give you a feel for something I call the buy / don’t buy scales. It helps you to weigh up the issues that encourage someone to buy and the concerns that hold back the purchase decision. [click to continue…]


As marketers I think it’s vital that we understand the buying decisions of our prospective clients and customers. I’ve used the idea of the Buy / Don’t Buy Scales in my coaching to help understand what tips the balance towards or away from a purchase.

Imagine an old fashioned set of weighing scales where you weigh one item against the other, and the heavier side tips down.

That’s what I think goes on in the mind of a buyer and a recent book, Why People (Don’t) Buy: The Go and Stop Signals by A. Chakravarti and M. Thomas (available from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) has helped to clarify and extend my own model.

The Buy / Don’t Buy Scales

Have you noticed how some buying decisions you make are so obvious that they need little thought, how other possible deals just scream out “No” and some leave you conflicted and unsure. You want but you’re nervous and the more you think about it, the less clarity you get in your mind.

This is the Buy / Don’t Buy Scales at work in your own mind as you consciously and unconsciously weigh the factors that are in favour of buying and the factors against buying.

The presence of that feeling of uncertainty sometimes shows that there’s some resistance in the scales. Buying is not a case of knowing which side is heavier but feeling that the buying side is significantly heavier.

Let me explain, if you’ve got the buyer’s equivalent of 10 kg on one side of the Buy / Don’t Buy Scales and 2 kg on the other, say in favour of buying, the scales tip decisively. The decision to buy is clear.

It would be the same if it was the other way around only this time, the decision would be not to buy.

However, if you’ve got the equivalent of 10 kg on one side and 9 kg on the other, the resistance in the scales means that there is just a gentle tilt one way. Your mind knows that it’s a close decision and that makes you uneasy.

Tilting The Buy / Don’t Buy Scales

As marketers, we want to tilt the scales in our favour and we have two options:

  1. To load more reasons on the buy side of the scales.
  2. To take away or reduce the issues that are weighed against the decision on the don’t buy side.

It’s hard to understand just how much resistance is involved with the individual’s buying scales i.e. what the ratio of buy / don’t buy factors has to be or what the difference in factors needs to be.

It’s clearer if I stay with the idea of using weights. The 10/2 scales was clearly a buy but different buyers may view that balance in different ways:

  • One person may see the ratio as important – at 10:2 or 5:1, it’s clearly impressive and crosses the threshold, which for the sake of argument may be a ratio of 3:1.
  • Others may see the difference in weights as the vital issue – the 10:2 balance gives us 8 kg extra in favour of buying. The needed threshold for a clear buying decision may have been a difference of 5.

So if we’ve got the current scale reading 10/9, we have some restacking to do.

For the buyer who wants to meet a ratio threshold of 3:1, we can see the challenge in one of three ways:

  • Increasing the buy side by at least 17 kg so the scales read 27:9 or better. That’s a big increase on the buy side.
  • Reducing the don’t buy side by at least 6 kg so the scales read 10:3 or better. Proportionately that’s a big change but may be easier to do than pushing so hard on the buying side.
  • We can do both by adding items that improve the assessment of buying by 5 kg and by reducing the factors that count against buying by 4 kg. This gives us a new scales balance of 15:5

For the buyer who wants a difference in the ides to exceed a certain side, the changes are much smaller.

If the buyer needs a difference of 5 to buy, we can see the challenge as one where we change the 10:9 balance by:

  • Increasing the buy side by at least 4 to make it 14:9
  • Decreasing the don’t buy side by at least 4 to make it 10:5
  • Or changing both by a little to give us the needed gap, perhaps of 12:7.

What should be clear is that we’ve got one type of buyer who is much harder to convince than the other. This comes down to personality as well as the buying situation.

Some people are more cautious and more risk sensitive than others. They take more time to reach a decision and need more convincing along the way.

It’s also much easier to be less sensitive to risk if the purchase item is small relative to the buyer’s income and wealth. Buying something for £10 is relatively minor and it doesn’t matter much if things go wrong. Buying something for £10,000 is much harder unless you have a lot of money.

Some Factors Will Stop The Buying Decision

Some factors aren’t just good to have or good to avoid, they are essential to the buying decision.

I’ve talked before about order winners and qualifiers. Qualifiers are factors that are needed to get you into the game and without them, you’re not a contender.

Factors that cause disgust are typical examples.

When you’re looking for a hotel, there is a general assumption of cleanliness. It’s a qualifier and if there’s clear evidence that the room is dirty (e.g. stained bed sheets, half eaten food on the bedside table etc), you’re going to recoil in horror. There’s a level where you won’t drop below.

Buyers want to be confident that they’re going to get good value for their money and a wide range of factors go into creating that confidence. You can get away with missing a small number provided your product or service is rare and hard to find. Missing a lot of factors that create confidence or having factors that destroy confidence will kill the deal. Again there’s a level where lack of confidence becomes a disqualifier.

No matter how much you try to stack the buy side of the scales, this huge weight is stuck on the don’t buy side that can’t be shifted.



Maximise Your Return On Time

It’s common practice to think about maximising your return on money invested and to have some kind of measure to track it but do you consider how to maximise your return on time?

The twin problems of:

  • Lack of time; and
  • Having too much to do;

are common issues for business owners and they can contribute to the business getting stuck in a rut. The business owner wants to move forward but seems unable to take the actions necessary.

This is why the thinking in the Stop Start More Less Matrix is important. It recognises that, to do something new or to do more of something good, you have to buy time from yourself.

Time is finite. No one has more than 24 hours in a day or 168 hours in a week.

Your task is to get the most out of the hours you choose to work in those 24 hours. In other words, your aim is to maximise your return on time. I first blogged about Return On Time in June 2009 while I was thinking about the importance of respecting the attention and time of your customers. [click to continue…]


I Want A Shop – How Do I Start A Retail Business?

I received an email from someone who wanted to own a shop but she didn’t know how to start a retail business.

I thought this was a common enough problem to make it worth blogging about my advice.

The lady who asked the question already knew what type of shop she wanted. If you’re a budding retail entrepreneur but you’re not sure about what to sell, you need to decide the broad category first.

General Thoughts About Retail Businesses

Setting up a business can be a great idea but it can also be a way of losing a lot of money, especially in retail.

I feel that the first thing you both need to do is to read two or three books about retailing and what makes one shop successful whilst others struggle.

Here is a link to amazon.co.uk or amazon.com for retail books in the business section.

As well as learning more about how to start and manage a shop, I think several aspects are particularly important. [click to continue…]


Search Marketing versus Outreach Marketing

I teach my clients that there are two main types of marketing – search marketing and outreach marketing.

What Is Search Marketing?

Search Marketing is doing everything necessary to be found when your potential customers begin their search for information about their problems, together with possible solutions in the form of products and services.

It is sometimes called inbound marketing because you are trying to pull customers into your business.

The main method of search marketing in the 2010s is to be found on the first page of Google or the other search engines through a combination of being found in the organic search results based on the ranking algorithm or by paying to be on the page through pay per click schemes like Google Adwords.

Another popular way that your customers will find out about your business is by asking their family and friends for recommendations. This also includes social media activities along the lines of “Does anyone know of a good small business accountant in Birmingham?”

What Is Outreach Marketing?

[click to continue…]


Why I Use Mind Maps In My Business Coaching & Advice

Over the years I have experimented with using mind maps as a way to store ideas and knowledge.

In 2017, I made the decision to make mind maps an integral part of my business coaching and advice process.

Generally I like people who deal with me to use Skype, at least some of the time because there is a facility that lets us share screens. This means that I can show you what’s on my screen or you can show me what’s on yours, even though we may be separated by hundreds of miles.

Using mind maps is just an extension of that principle.

Why Use Mind Maps?

When I was doing classroom training, I used a saying that went along the lines of…

  • Hear and forget.
  • See and remember.
  • Do and understand.

Business coaching is all about help business owners do more to solve business problems and issues. This involves analysing the situation, identifying potential actions, selecting the best or most appropriate steps and then doing them. It also then involves reviewing the implementation and seeing how well the original issue has been solved and then identifying what else needs to be done.

A mind map helps to do all those steps because it doesn’t rely on you taking accurate notes of what I’ve said or what we’ve discussed or, even worse, trying to remember on your own. [click to continue…]


From time to time, a business owner will contact me and ask for a free Business SOS because their business has cash flow difficulties.

The first issue we face is the problem of diagnosis. A business may be experiencing cash flow problems for a number of different reasons and curing the problem for the long term means getting to the root cause.

Cash flow difficulties normally mean that the business is struggling:

  • To pay suppliers when they chase for their money after selling on credit, or
  • When another supplier insists on payment on order or delivery and no money means no goods, or
  • When the business owner is struggling to find the money to meet the weekly or monthly payroll, or
  • When  the business can’t meet a periodic payment like the quarterly rent or VAT, or
  • When the business owner wants to take money out of the business for personal use and the money isn’t there.

The Causes Of Cash Flow Problems

[click to continue…]


My Business Is About To Fail, What Should I Do?

I’m sorry to hear about the serious problems with your business.

The big question with any struggling business is whether you are in the early stage of decline or whether problems have been going on for some time and have used all or virtually all of your spare cash in the business together with any money you can invest or lend to the business.

From your query, it sounds like the second so turnaround options are probably not available.

In that case you may have to follow an insolvency procedure.

This depends on the legal form of the business in the UK. [click to continue…]