The Missing Kernel of Motivation

As “consultants” in various peer-to-peer exchanges discuss shared challenges, many conversations invariably turn to a common challenge we collectively face far too frequently.

How can we – as market-proven, trusted advisors, as business consultants, facilitators and change agents – more consistently motivate business owners to take action to resolve pressing business challenges? Human beings (including business owners), still won’t move off-the-dime even when seemingly all barriers to action have been removed. What is it that stalls action to achieve a better future?

The following is a generic summary of the consultant/owner dialogue.

(1) A specific business challenge is identified and needs to be resolved,
(2) The company has the necessary  financial resources to address the challenge,
(3) The company doesn’t have the internal resources to adequately address the challenge in a timely manner, and
(4) The owner knows the consultant has the necessary expertise, experience and offers a cost-effective methodology to resolve the problem.

Yet, too often, the owner simply doesn’t move forward. The conversation just stalls. Why? What stops it?

There probably isn’t a magical answer, a silver bullet or a simple formula of “do this differently and you will achieve a better outcome.” While it may seem to be self-serving, and it is to a degree, the consensus in these consultant conversations is that these businesses should at least find some help from outside to add to their own abilities.

As this question is posed, I offer that each consultant must build trust, speak with less jargon and use a consultative selling process. That should at least be part of the answer. Is there more?  I invite all to share their insights.

Changing Loyalties – Motivations & Trigger-points

Let’s consider what motivates, what triggers a consumer – be it an individual or more broadly, a business – to stop purchasing a given product (or service) to seek an alternative product that meets their needs.  

A few triggering scenarios come to mind. One, it could be that the consumer was recently made aware of a new product. That awareness might be through a serendipitous referral, promotional advertising that sparked sufficient curiosity, or possibly a sales representative offering a new product with an attractive value proposition. Two, the trigger might be one or more negative experiences with a given product, wherein the consumer’s perception of the value delivered was altered in a substantive manner.

That negative perception might be the result of a single experience that massively eroded the value proposition, or a series of incremental experiences that were accumulative, that “tripped” a change in how that individual looked at that product. That change in the consumer’s value perception – however strong and seemingly irreversible – can be the result of a rational evaluation of the product’s value, or it can be far more emotionally based.

The features and benefits of a given product are generally a constant, or possibly seen to be delivered in an “acceptable” range of value. However, the emotional perception of value – how the consumer “feels” about the product – is far more tenuous. In fact, feelings about a product can pivot 1800 in the blink of an eye. Those feelings are foundational to the value proposition. If the consumer’s “trust” is violated, in the product or the company’s brand or image linked to the product, the consumer seeks alternative products to meet their need. Loyalty earned can literally vanish. The consumer will seek product alternatives that don’t violate their beliefs or core values.

Trust, once broken, sets a higher bar for being rekindled. Businesses can and do invest time, money and company resources to build a new client or a CRM system full of clients, but the upward momentum of growth can be restricted unknowingly by processes, practices or people that fail to consistently connect with and deliver product value with a positive customer experience.

Calls for service not responded to professionally, a delivery that arrived late, a phone system that doesn’t provide a means for the consumer to actually talk to someone that can help them with a need or solve a problem, a service technician that leaves a mess in his wake, a sales representative that puts his interests ahead of his customer – the list of negative emotional experiences can go on and on.

Step back. Take a look at every customer touch-point. Listen, design and proactively manage all customer experiences to a best practices standard. Your business KPIs will soar.

The FIVE Ps of Branding

Branding has classically dealt with the FOUR P’s of Product, Place, Price and Promotions. While all are relevant to building your brand, in today’s marketplace brand differentiation remains a major challenge for many businesses. We believe a strong business case can be made to add a fifth “P” and that it is and has been arguably the most important component to the definition of brand value.

Whether your business is small or quite large, or operating in the B2B or B2C marketplace, the classic “delta” or gap between your brand and your competition has been your product’s features and to varying degrees its price. The convenience or ambiance of Place and the reassurance and encouragement of Promotions can entice, enhancing the brand and growing market share. But, too often consumers and businesses alike see strikingly little differentiation in the options before them. Sometimes a brand choice or purchasing decision can be less about the perception of added brand value and more about parity, or minimal brand value. Think commodity.

We believe the FOUR Ps of Brand Development should be FIVE Ps, with People (your ENGAGED employees) being the FIFTH component, and arguably the most powerful. Whether it is a product or service you are selling, it’s the people that directly execute your brand that ultimately supports the brand messages and confirms a customer’s buying decision, or pushes them away, that drives them to seek a competitor. 

Please consider the following scenario. Let’s assume that you have invested and carefully defined your brand over many years through the 4 Ps. Let’s also assume that your brand strategy is effectively growing your business, that your customers routinely experience the brand value you have crafted. What happens, however, if a customer has a significantly negative experience? What happens if the negative experience is repeated or is so severe that the customer chooses to broadcast their disappointment or anger to others?

Maybe it is a rude receptionist or a critical product delivery that was late or never arrived. Maybe it is a non-attentive server at the restaurant you have walked into or a sales or customer service representative that doesn’t return your call. Observe your business closely. Look at it from the eyes of your customer.

  •  Will the customer forgive and forget based upon the brand value previously delivered, or flee?


  •  Will your brand survive one negative incident? Will it survive two or three?


  •  What is that numerical tipping point for each of your customers?


  • How frequently is the strength of your brand – the loyalty of your customers to that brand – being tested?

According to research the overwhelming majority of customers do not complain to a company about its product or service – they simply walk away. But, they tell others about those negative experiences, and tell their story in social media where the damage to your company’s brand is multiplied. The final brand component – the promise delivered and the final differentiation are your employees. Your PEOPLE.  Look at your points of interaction with your customers. Regardless of how small or seemingly inconsequential, pay attention to all. Given the incredible diversity of product and service choices – for consumers and for business – are your employees consistently delivering your brand or are they eroding it?


When you look at the structure of a typical business (oxymoron) – as all businesses are inherently unique – we often see an owner’s office or executive suite and the balance of the company organized into functional areas, such as operations, marketing, sales, human resources and accounting. Some companies have fewer departments and others have more. Further, there is usually a hierarchical structure that can be one layer or many depending upon the size and complexity of the business.

Ideally, each department and every employee therein has a mix of capabilities, functions and a set of defined responsibilities. As employees communicate (engagement) internally and externally with their customers, and as their responsibilities are accomplished (performance) the company’s mission is being accomplished and the customer is served (ideally, they are thrilled). Products and services are delivered to multiple customers, value is transferred and a payment is exchanged – a classic debit and credit transaction. The companies that engage and perform to or above market benchmarks – that do “it” better – grow and prosper, while their competitors struggle and may eventually fail.

Practically, the level of individual, departmental and total company performance varies significantly (gap). A failure to fully understand customer needs can result in a misalignment of value being transferred, providing an opportunity for competitors to gain traction. Gaps in desired engagement and performance – individual and company – can diminish the value transferred to those customers, also providing a competitor an opportunity to secure the business.

Incredibly few businesses consistently perform at high levels of performance; misalignment and gaps abound in every business and with their customers. If then, so what? Broadly speaking, the customer’s needs and expectations are not being met due to some combination of weak strategic or tactical plans, or managers or other employees are underperforming. Resolving strategic and tactical weaknesses AND elevating engagement and performance are critical to business success, which is always a long-term and dynamic undertaking. The “hard stuff” of business is important, but so is the “soft stuff” of business, the behavioral elements.

The good news is that small improvements in one area of the company begin to cascade throughout the organization. Step-by-step, the total performance profile of each employee, each department and the entire company is improved. Customers are happier, maybe even thrilled – which is a critical benchmark.

What’s keeping you from taking that first step?

Creating Business Value – How do you start?

Generally business owners and managers understand many of the cause and effect relationships that determine business value. The standard “score keeping” of financial accounting and reporting do not itemize  everyday employee behaviors such as roles, responsibilities, competencies, capabilities, thinking, decision making, and actions. Owners and managers need some useful “tally” that shows the link between workplace behaviors and financial performance.

They may not consciously audit all the variables, but the present value of a company is the total effect of employee behaviors on the business. Building financial value means that improvement in employee performance must happen. But what are those different actions, and how does a company put them into play?

Business management always involves change, and everyone realizes to improve you should do some things–when you think of it. Certainly most companies want to improve, but unfortunately seeking assistance to do so is often not in the present budget.

So change waits.

We suggest that most companies like to be positive and action oriented, but research in psychology and neuroscience indicates that people often do not change because they are not consciously aware of what needs to be changed.

Our perspective at Spiers & Associates is that time and cost should not be the barrier to true discovery. “Getting better” processes should not be overly time consuming and/or expensive for the small business. Practices and procedures that will increase business value should not be put off to “some other” time.

If a company truly understands that what their employees do every day in the culture they have determines their current business value, it would be smart business management to discover those cause and effect relationships as soon as possible.

What if company management could spend a reasonable amount of time and money to learn critical elements about their company culture, and how employee actions are impacting company value?

That is discovery.

What would it mean to them if they could quickly implement sound strategies that are positively different than the ones they are doing now?

Creating business value is a journey, and good employee practices, results and financial value build over time. Take the first step to move in that direction.