Fall Forward Masterclass Series:
If you are looking for ideas and energy to supercharge your last 100 days of the year, don’t miss our series of free, high-impact webinars with case study examples on how to beat the competition, how to leverage AI for efficient brand growth, and more.
You can register now for Elevate Your Game: The 3 Winning Moves Your Brand Needs to Make Now, Thursday October 5th at 12pm ET. Six-Point strategist, Ony Mgbeahurike will share a case study packed with insights for anyone feeling like their brand has untapped potential. And stay tuned for more virtual fall learning events coming soon!
My RSVP Read…
“Sorry, I can’t attend. I am on a retreat at a pheasant hunting farm in South Dakota.” I couldn’t believe those words myself. It was the fakest-sounding excuse ever! But, whether my friend believed it or not, it was legit.
I recently had the privilege to spend time at Paul Nelson Farm facilitating a family business retreat for the Prairie Family Business Association. Five families working on various phases of succession planning gathered for several days of learning, reflection, and deep work.
Since I was one of only two East Coasters at the retreat, I arrived a night early and got to walk the grounds with the amazing Cheryl Nelson, the late Paul Nelson’s wife. She was full of stories about Paul and his vision for turning his dad’s cattle ranch into a world class pheasant hunting destination.
And while I am sure Cheryl doesn’t think of herself as a teacher or an expert, her stories were full of wisdom. Here are a few nuggets I took away:
Know what you will do… and what you won’t
When Cheryl married Paul, he was a rancher on his family’s land with 3,000 head of cattle, battling the fierce winters on the prairies. When it became clear that cattle ranching was not going to be a viable business for them, Paul got creative. He felt that as long as they kept the family’s land (in what he considered “the most beautiful spot on earth”), anything else was on the table. Paul didn’t feel pressure to use the land exactly the way his dad did. So when friends asked to hunt pheasants on his land, he got the idea that this could be the new path. It would showcase the land, and be a viable business. Instead of following the traditional (and commoditized) path, creating a luxury niche allowed for the Nelson’s business to become a sustainable and enjoyable livelihood while also enriching the surrounding community.
A lot of family businesses, or any business with a long legacy, can feel stuck. They are known a certain way for a certain thing, whether it will be viable to sustain the business into the future or not. Reinvention can feel too difficult, or too risky. A clear understanding of what is off the table can actually be freeing. In Paul’s case, anything that would involve selling his family’s land was a nonstarter, but anything that showcased the beauty and resources of the land was on the table. This allowed him to evolve the vision for legacy without putting the soul of that legacy at risk.
Your competition is not who you think they are
When Paul and Cheryl started in the pheasant hunting business, they thought they were competing against other hunting lodges, or other local attractions. As they built up their reputation, they started attracting corporate retreats and other customers who were using pheasant hunting in the middle of South Dakota as a private networking venue. That was when they realized that their competition wasn’t hunting lodges. It was golf.
This realization meant that they needed to start thinking about their strategy more thoughtfully. Why would someone choose the prairies over the luxury of a private country club? What would make them drive on miles of gravel road to bring their business associates to Paul Nelson Farm? They needed to create something super special and highly memorable.
When Cheryl walked me through the lodge, it was clear that they had risen to the challenge. Each of the private bedrooms in the King Lodge exuded the richness of South Dakota culture. The food and the service were top notch. They limited onsite TVs to common areas to ensure that guests mingled and socialized, since networking and relationship building was part of their value proposition.
Do you have hidden competition outside of your industry that you should be paying attention to and using for innovation? The Nelson’s insight into what their competition really was allowed them to leapfrog the other lodges and local attractions and create essentially their own category.
Shh! Your customers are trying to tell you something!
Tom Epperson of InnerWill, the main presenter at the retreat, shared a fun stat with us. The average person only listens for 17 seconds before they will interrupt the person talking to them. 17 seconds! We do it with our families, our colleagues, and, yes, even our customers. (The original study that found this stat was monitoring how doctors interrupt their patients.) What would it mean if we listened a little longer, or even (gasp!) asked questions and listened intently to the answers!
While Six-Point does a lot of formal “voice of the customer” research, I learned that Paul and Cheryl Nelson didn’t need a fancy research process. They simply listened deeply when their guests spoke. For example, when the lodge first opened, it was all about how to get as many people onto the property as possible, so they had bedrooms with four twin beds jammed in. It worked for the first few seasons, but eventually when Paul asked hunters what wasn’t working for them, they started bringing up snoring roommates or simply being, “too old to share a room.” Eventually, more rooms were added, and now each room in the lodge has a plush king bed.
Cheryl also played the harp for us, and told me that she picked it up 25 years ago. She likes it because she can play while the guests have dinner and it is great background music. The guests keep talking, and she can listen to their conversations while they play. She would bring back intel to Paul and let him know if anyone was complaining or if there were any problems, and he would immediately spring into action. The issue was solved before the guest even knew they had told anyone!
Where should you be listening to customer conversations? Are there venues, communities, or forums where you can get more unguarded sources of information? (Maybe you will even start taking harp lessons!)
Back to School
I hope as the school season kicks off, you will tap into your own curiosity and be a student of your own customer and business. Ask more questions. Listen more deeply. One thing that was reinforced to me during my week on the farm is that there is wisdom all around us if we are ready to receive it.