Small business tips learned by listening to Walt Disney

by | Business Success Tools

We were browsing Twitter to find news of interest – and we came across a story by Michael W. Freeman in the Orlando Sentinel about how studying Walt Disney can teach small business owners plenty about running their own companies. In this article, he interviews Jim Korkis, a former Walt Disney cast member who is also an author and Disney historian.

While focusing on Disney’s leadership style and how it can help your small business isn’t a new concept, two ideas really jumped out at me while I was reading this article:

1) Always emphasize value over price because someone can always be cheaper. How are you unique?

2) Cultivate your listening skills. Before you can become a story “teller” for your business, you first need to be a story “listener.” What are your customers telling you? What are your prospects talking about?

Here’s more detail.

Emphasize value over price

We looked around online to find out what other experts were saying about value over price. And here’s some of what we learned.

Inc. contributor Tim Donnelly reminds us that, when a product or service is presented the right way to customers – in other words, when its value is appropriately shared – people will spend more money to get that product or service. Selling value appropriately isn’t necessarily easy, of course, as it involves a special blend of rapport, confidence and research – especially now when it’s easier than ever for prospects to check out your competition online.

So what do you do? It’s extremely important that you target the correct audience for your products and/or services. What you sell isn’t for everybody, which means in part that you need to ensure that you’re targeting people or companies that can meet your price point.

Donnelly quotes business consultant Barry Farber as saying the following. “Some sales people, they just make sure the prospect is breathing and then they dump all this info on them. That’s not a good return on your investment of your time.”

We also took a look at Entrepreneur where journalist Paula Andruss looks at the ten most trusted company brands, one of which is Ford Motor Company. Andruss praises Ford’s ability to stay consistent and reliable, and to listen to what its customers have to say.

Her quote from branding expert Brad VanAuken about Ford and its consistency is definitely worth repeating: “Changing the logo, tag line and messaging on a frequent basis will ensure that nothing about your brand sticks in your intended customers’ heads,” he says. “Once you have developed a unique and compelling value proposition [italics ours] for your brand, repeat it again and again.”

Be an eager listener

The second of Walt Disney’s small business (and life!) lessons focuses on being a joyful listener. And, the reality is that effective listening improves your relationships with your customers and makes you a better business owner. Customers want to be heard and real business leaders will listen.

Glenn Llopis, a Forbes contributor, talks about effective methods for listening. Key tip: to become an eager listener, you need to listen to each person as a unique human being rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach. When you genuinely listen to your prospects and customers, human-to-human, it becomes more natural for you to follow up on your conversations. Llopis also reminds us that expressing empathy for your customer’s concerns is an important leadership quality.

An article by Carmine Gallo in Bloomberg Businessweek shares specific ways to become a better listener. As she says, “Extraordinary men and women solicit feedback, listen to opinions, and act on that intelligence.” Specific actions include making direct eye contact, responding to questions with a question, providing feedback and being available when people ask the tough questions.

Each time that you listen, it puts you ahead of the competition.

Another word about Walt

Disney author and historian Jim Korkis has a new book, this one titled, Who’s the Leader of the Club? Walt Disney’s Leadership Lessons. Although I have not yet read this book, I did read the article where Jerry Beck of Cartoon Research interviewed Jim Korkis about its message. In the book, Korkis apparently does not shy away from discussing mistakes that Disney made. But, he also points out that, while Disney was rough in his behavior at times, he maintained integrity and people knew that he wanted the best for them and for the Disney product.

Have you read this new book? Do you have thoughts about how Disney’s philosophy has (or, even, has not!) helped you in your own small business? Share in the comments below.

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