In this interview Dennis, a Pacific Northwest Native, shares with us the following:
- The 6 secrets for first time business owners
- What he thinks of Verizon’s marketing
- Why trying compete based solely on price and service won’t work
Learn more about his experience in finance, real estate, and procurement in this SCORE exclusive interview!
What is your current role at SCORE?
My current role at SCORE is assistant district director for Orange County, the Inland Empire and the Coachella Valley
What did you do before SCORE?
I worked with a consumer finance company for 30 years, in various sales positions at locations throughout the US. In my second career I was in charge of procurement, which included corporate real estate (facility leasing). The last position I held was VP / director of procurement and real estate for a global engineering company.
What’s your favorite part about these jobs?
I think both in sales and in procurement I most enjoyed the interaction with other people. In sales, and in negotiating contracts and office leases you’re trying to reach a solution or a point where everybody leaves that negotiation feeling satisfied.
What attracted you to joining SCORE?
The opportunity to remain engaged in the business of business, even though I was retired.
When you’re really engaged in business it’s difficult to give it up, sometimes you just don’t realize it. I went to work with the hope of someday retiring, but when you’ve been in business for 45 years you say “gosh!” I really did love what I was doing and it’s hard to simply put it on a shelf.
What is your favorite part about working at SCORE?
The ability to provide an educational opportunity. Helping someone solve a particular challenge, or take advantage of an opportunity. When I sit down with an entrepreneur who is struggling with A or B and I provide information that helps them deal with those issues the look on their face and them saying “Aha! I understand!” the satisfaction I get from that is huge.
Do you have any client success stories?
I used to deal with this when I was the chairman of the Orange County chapter, “client success stories”, in my view they’re not as much success stories as they are simply client stories. There’s a distinction there. A client story is a business owner whose business is a work in progress. On their way perhaps to becoming a success. And that’s primarily who we deal with. Our clients are largely people who are starting a business or already have a business, and are passionate about what they’re doing and putting in all sorts of time and effort to make that business successful. And most of our client stories are the result of a collective effort on the part of several SCORE mentors, not just me or any single mentor, because no one mentor has all the answers.
What advice would you give to a first time business owner?
Don’t go into a business that you’re not passionate about, because you’ll hit all kind of bumps in the road along the way, and there’s going to be a dozens of times you’ll probably think about throwing in the towel and giving up. If the road to entrepreneurship was smooth and easy most people would be entrepreneurs. Furthermore, if your goal each day has become getting to 5:00 or 6:00 PM you’re not in the right business.
Do appropriate market research. You have to be able to answer 6 questions before you get started and if you can’t answer those questions you’re not ready to launch:
- Who is your customer?
- What is the most effective and efficient way of reaching that customer?
- Who are you competing with for that customer’s dollar?
- What are you really selling? Why should someone choose you over one of your competitors?
- What can you sell your product or service for?
- Will you make money selling your product or service at that price?
Those who say, people will come to them and buy from them because “I’ll give better service” and/or “my pricing is going to be better”, those answers don’t wash. The reason is everyone promises better service and why would you want to be the low price leader? You want to have great a solution, a solution people will pay a premium for. Look at Nordstrom; they’ve built their reputation on service, but that’s taken years.
I was a member of a task force brought together by the city of Anaheim to address economic development. Another member of the group asked if I could bring in a SCORE mentor who could talk from experience about marketing, someone who really understood marketing. So I said “sure,” and brought is John. He was asked to explain the difference between selling benefits and selling features. He answered by putting his old “clamshell” cellphone on the conference room table and asking what the benefit of that device was. Several answers were offered – mapping, coupons, price comparisons, etc) so John just picked up the phone, held it to the side of his head and said: ” The benefit here is the ability to talk in this end and here in this end.” The other stuff is just features.
Now why does everybody seem to want a cellphone? Well the reason is because they want to stay connected, they want people to be able to reach them and be able to reach out to people whenever the urge hits them. And who seems to be the most successful wireless phone company in America? In my opinion, Verizon. Why? Because Verizon markets the benefit of their service; remember that ad campaign? “Can you hear me now?” What did Verizon show us in those ads ? Maps of the US. and how prolific their cell phone tower points were. The point they were making, what they were selling, was better connectivity (access) and fewer dropped calls, and they could do that because they have more towers.
Think about the 6 questions I mentioned earlier: Verizon is selling the benefit of better connectivity using television ads to reach people who feel the need to be connected all the time. They know they’re competing with other carriers, so they emphasize the fact they have more cell phone towers than their competitors which equates to better connectivity for their customers.
The last 2 questions are “What can I sell my product or service for?” and “Can I make money at that price?” and I think they’ve answered those questions. If you can be a mini Verizon and approach the challenge of entrepreneurship asking and correctly answering those six questions you stand a very good chance that you’ll be successful. However trying to compete on service, that doesn’t resonate with people, and trying to compete on price if you’re not a Walmart – if you can’t buy for pennies and sell for dollars – competing on price alone may be a path to failure.
Why should people come to SCORE for mentorship?
I was in Washington DC not long ago, on a panel convened to talk about educating entrepreneurs. A business owner asked the panel (I was one of 3 panelists – a representative from Women Business Centers (WBC) and the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) were there too) “why would someone come to an organization like yours when there’s so much information on the internet?” When that question came to me my response was: “You can get information off the internet, but you cannot get education from the Internet.” By that I meant you can read what somebody has posted on the Internet as a solution to a challenge, but you won’t be able to talk with somebody to determine if that solution it’s right for your unique business. In other words, how is that solution going to affect me both in a positive way and possibly in a negative way? The only way to get those answers is talking with somebody who has already walked a mile in your own shoes.
Coming to SCORE you can talk with somebody. Let’s say the question is marketing, marketing and sales; “what message and what vehicle should I use to grow my sales to another level?” Here you can talk with a SCORE mentor who will help you make those decisions; someone who will help you understand who you are, the benefit you’re selling and what emotional want or need your prospective customer wants to satisfy. People buy benefits, and the extent to which the benefit you’re selling satisfies their need that’ll establish value, which of course influences the price their willing to pay. The definition of marketing and selling is the art of influencing people, that’s important to remember.
In terms of going to family and friends, and these were not exactly my words, when you go to family and friends the vast majority of times they’re gonna be supportive even when they shouldn’t be. You don’t generally get objective input from a family member or a friend. But when you come to SCORE, SCORE mentors have no motivation other than to see you succeed so the advice you’ll get will be unbiased and unvarnished.