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David Dallaire, is the Founder and Principal of Fennec Consulting. David is an accomplished problem-solver with a twenty-year international career spanning a diverse set of industries, cultures and disciplines. He has spent his career helping start successful new businesses, streamline and consolidate operations at others and helping both old and new build brands that are ready for the demands of an increasingly demanding global consumer profile.
Fennec Consulting is a consultancy firm with a global reach providing services in Business Planning, Strategic Planning, Marketing Strategy, Brand Development and Interim Management Services. Based in Seattle and serving markets in the US, Asia, Japan and Eastern Europe, they help their clients grow through building an organization focused on creating loyal and profitable customer relationships.
MO: What inspires you both personally and professionally?
David: I love a great customer story that involves innovation – be it products, policies or services. Early in my career I had the privilege of setting up the first operations centers for both LL Bean AND Lands’ End in Japan. Long before Zappos got all the credit for their guarantees and culture, these two companies had it all figured out. The ingenuity of LL Bean in their US factories, in particular, was inspiring for the home-made inventiveness they applied to solving manufacturing challenges that were ultimately designed around what was best for the customer.
MO: If you could share one small business branding strategy with our readers, what would it be?
David: I always want my small business clients to “Think Big”. Sometimes when you are small and just starting out, it’s hard to step back from your business and imagine your own success beyond your immediate geographic area or current customer base. However, by imagining yourself beyond these confines you get a more complete view of what your Brand’s real potential is, and that often makes a big difference in the decisions you make that determine how you are perceived in the marketplace. The best way to do this? Bring in some fresh eyes and talk to your customers, talk to your non-customers, etc. and build an objective view of how your business can really matter to them in a bigger way.
MO: What are some ways that a business could start creating more loyal and profitable customer relationships?
David: First ask yourself “Would I enjoy being my own customer/client?”. You will look at your business differently by answering this question. And then I always ask my clients “What can you GUARANTEE?” The most important element in starting a great customer relationship is to eliminate for them the element of perceived risk in working with you or buying your product. EVERY business can do this in one form or another. I’m always amazed when companies like Zappos get so much press for their guarantee, because it means so many others have still not figured out the value of doing this. My sense is that managers are more afraid of how it might negatively impact their bottom line, rather than thinking more about how it might motivate their employees to innovate, improve service and be creative in retaining their best customers! The real secret? It massively simplifies the management structure and business processes within your company, but that is a big topic to cover another day.
MO: What are the first steps a company needs to take when considering international expansion?
David: You’ll often hear horror stories about business that did not understand the local culture and adapt to it, so everyone will tell you to “adapt to the local culture”. My take on this is just a bit different. For me, it’s more important to understand what makes your Brand great already, and examine those elements for what will translate locally and be sure to preserve them. If you are launching in a foreign market, part of your appeal will be to remain “authentic” to how you became successful. THEN you localize for other aspects like product specs, marketing tactics, service platform, etc. but DON’T assume you have to toss out your culture and Brand personality to be successful. Lands’ End succeeded in Japan because the customer knew they were getting an “authentic American casual” experience, Eddie Bauer did not because they offered “American clothes sold by a Japanese catalog partner”. They missed the point about WHY the Japanese consumer would have a relationship with them.
MO: What does your ideal client look like? What kind of projects do you most enjoy working on?
David: A study by Bain & Company a few years back of almost 400 CEOs indicated that 80% of them “believe they delivered a ‘superior experience’ to their customers”. When they interviewed their customers, apparently only 8% agreed. This “Delivery gap” is something that exists in almost every company, and there is so much low-hanging fruit that can be found to close it. I love helping clients take a bottom-up look at their business, and then working with them to build a strategic vision and implementation plan that is simple enough to be acted on and durable enough to drive the business forward for years, not months. However, as the research above indicates, CEOs who recognize this need are rare. Ideally I get to work with them before their business becomes a “turnaround” project!
MO: How common is it for a company to misidentify who their real customer is? If faced with this huge issue, what steps can a business take to identify the problem and re-align with their true customer base?
David: It’s surprisingly very common. Very often there are internal factors, legacy processes or political issues that keep everyone focused on a certain stakeholder group who may no longer be as relevant as another group. Often it is an unbalance of reseller vs. end-user, paymaster vs. customer, internal vs. external or my biggest pet peeve – shareholder vs. customer. I have a two-day strategic planning workshop that covers this critical element, and we work with the client to map out every stakeholder and identify their real roles and their drivers. Again, the process of stepping away from the day-to-day and looking at all your moving pieces objectively is critical to getting it right.
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