Is your staff ignoring low hanging fruit?

5 November 2013 07:01 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The basic logic argues there are only three ways to improve a company’s bottom line. Increase revenue, reduce costs, or both.

Imagine attending a meeting where fresh strategies intended to resolve or improve the company’s bottom line are discussed. The eager-to-impress executives at the table push one another’s thinking as they ‘brainstorm’ to quantify the fiscal impact of each cost-saving or revenue-increasing initiative.

Without fail, once the ideas are on the table, one of the leaders asks a predictable question: “Where is the low hanging fruit?” The question is simple enough: which of the initiatives has the most potential impact with the least amount of internal effort or disruption. The answer, it turns out, is not so simple. Hypothetically, today’s well-trained aspiring leaders should be in sync with the best thinking in management theory. They must live to work in terms of ROI every minute of every day. And they should be asking the “low hanging fruit” questions dozens of times to ensure that much of the ripening produce has, and, is regularly harvested in a timely manner – rather than be allowed to drop to ground and perish.




Low hanging fruit – Actual
If you posses a mango tree, low hanging fruit means something different to you than to most managers. For most managers, low hanging fruit means goals or results that are more easily achieved than average. Let’s look at how the two definitions are similar and how they differ.

On a fruit tree some of the fruit is easier to get to than others. Imagine having a 50 to 60 feet tall mango tree (even wider across) in your garden laden with fruit. It is likely that you could pluck the mangoes off the lower branches as you walked around the tree. They could be ripe, sweet and easy to get to. Technically, speaking, they are the low hanging fruit. Imagine that all the low hanging fruit has been plucked and that you are now, with a bit more effort, going after the mangoes higher in the tree. This would mean pulling out a ladder or climbing into the tree.

Some would prefer the safety of the former whilst others would risk the flexibility of the latter. Up higher the mangoes are plentiful, usually bigger and perhaps sweeter.




Low hanging fruit- In business
Organisations set goals. Some goals will be easier to achieve than others. For example, let’s consider the results of a customer satisfaction survey that your company carried out. The survey reveals dissatisfaction with your telephone support service. In order to improve, your team identifies several goals and agrees to achieve them. One of the goals is to ‘answer all incoming calls within three rings’.

This is usually easier to accomplish than another different goal, say, to ‘resolve 90 percent of customer support issues on the first call’. Answering customer calls within the prescribed number of rings can be achieved in a very short time, by hiring additional telephone agents and purchasing the equipment necessary to support them. Assuming that sufficient capital is available for salaries and equipment, this goal can be identified as the ‘low hanging fruit’ goal.
However, the goal of resolving all customer issues in a single call, cannot be termed a low hanging fruit – because it requires enhanced training of telephone agents, providing them with the tools and techniques to find answers faster, and empower them (i.e. minimise the need to escalate issues to superiors), and to act in the customer’s best interest, whilst protecting the company’s reputation.





Going after the fruit higher in the tree  
Returning  to our imaginary meeting: the tendency of the majority of the ‘eager-to-impress’ executives would be to pull out the ladder or climb on to the tree as quickly as possible and go after the mangoes higher in the tree.

In today’s corporate world, it is only those who demonstrate agility in plucking the most fruit within the shortest period, whilst making the correct din all the time that get noticed and pushed up the ladder/tree. And, in the frantic race to get to the top, none bother to look below – for them, no longer is low hanging fruit a goal! This is where most organisations get it terribly skewed.

There is nothing wrong with going after fruit higher in the tree. In fact, it’s a smart thing to do because at some point, you have to go after the more difficult goals; the fruit higher in the tree. The danger lies in going only after fruit higher in the tree whilst ignoring low hanging fruit. Remember, our mango tree like most other trees is long-lived, bear’s fruit every year with some specimens known to fruit even after 300 years. So, low hanging fruit will always be there for the plucking!





Letting low-hanging fruit fall to ground
Neglecting timely plucking of the ripening low hanging fruit will result in such fruit getting overripe, eventually falling off the tree and creating a mess at ground level. Would a mango grower who owns acres of mango trees routinely pick only the fruit at the top and the middle of the tree, leaving the low-hanging fruit to fall to the ground and go to waste? Not one who wants to stay in business. When all the ‘wannabe’ managers are jostling to climb the corporate ladder, there is hardly anyone, to supervise those who prefer to work less by walking around plucking the low hanging fruit. Things get worse when such ground level staff abandon the ‘stretch-to-pluck’ for the ‘stoop-to-pick’ fallen fruit.

Even worse, is when fruit is plucked before their time – thus leading to waste and losses. The same principal applies when hundreds of sales opportunities are missed everyday because those on the front line who deal with customers by telephone or person-to-person, merely listen, show indifference  and  don’t properly ask for the order, leaving low hanging fruit to go unpicked or even more disastrous, be harvested by the competition. You see this happening quite often in the hotel and service sectors – especially in Sri Lanka.




Nothing happens until somebody sells something
Recently, I visited two reputed travel agencies to obtain airfares from Colombo to Melbourne via Kuala Lumpur for my family of three.

We had already earmarked our dates of travel with a preferred airline. Staff at both agencies gave us the details and applicable prices. The similarities ended there. The male travel coordinator at Agency A which boasts the tagline ‘Your travel house’ never bothered to ask for my name or contact details. Seeking a price reduction I asked him if I could talk to that agency’s Managing Director.

He replied that his M.D. had not come to work as yet, and, went on to smugly state that he had already quoted me the best possible price. What he failed to realize was that I had already obtained the applicable price directly from the airline’s local office and the fare quoted by Agency A was much higher.

Alas, this young man despite the seemingly impressive qualifications (DTTC, IATA/UFTAA,CA as indicated after his name on his business card), would not recognise low hanging fruit – even if it stared him directly in the face! On the other hand, Agency B, which on its website, claims to be ‘your professional international travel advisor’, proved refreshingly different. The female tour executive quoted the identical fare that the local office of the preferred airline gave us. When I asked to speak to the General Manager, she dialed his office number and as he was not in his seat, called him up on his mobile. The GM immediately came over to address our needs. He even saw us to the door when we left….. No prizes for guessing which agency gets my business!

Given the chaos and desperation to be creative and possibly step out-of-the-box to find new revenue streams, even hotels are missing sales opportunities right in their own backyard. In some situations, it’s about too much effort on working harder, with little attention or focus on how to work smarter. Too little time is going into creating and implementing a working sales culture where identifying revenue opportunities is part of daily life. It’s like going after the higher fruit in the tree whilst overlooking the low hanging fruit. Fifty percent of all leads and internal sales opportunities never receive follow-up or are acted upon in a proactive sales manner. It’s about capitalizing and leveraging the business and relationships you already have. It can be as simple as someone offering to make a dinner reservation or spa appointment upon check-in.

If you have hundreds of guests staying in your hotel on any given night, you have a captured audience and multiple opportunities to leverage the visit and “up sell” the dining facilities, room service, banquets, spa, recreation and excursion. There needs to be a balance between the effort that goes into looking for new business,(higher fruit on the tree) and the focus to retain the business within reach and at hand, (low hanging fruit).

(Shafeek Wahab has an extensive background in Hospitality Management spanning over 30 years. He has held key managerial responsibilities in internationally renowned hotel chains, both locally and abroad, including his last held position as Head of Branding for a leading Hotel Group in Sri Lanka. Now focusing on corporate education, training, consulting and coaching he can be contacted on shafeekwahab@in2ition.biz)

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