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Shelley Freed of Ashton Business Solutions

Meet Shelley Freed, co-founder of Ashton Business Solutions, a market research organization that helps companies grow.

What is Ashton Business Solutions?

Ashton Business Solutions is a market-research organization that develops customer-focused strategies to help companies grow. Our team taps customer feedback, slices and dices information captured in client databases and evaluates industry trends. Then we synthesize those findings into effective growth strategies.

Because the business leaders of a company are involved, our practice compels and facilitates strategic changes while we develop the plan. It makes a big difference in that company owners/leaders buy-in to the strategies because they have been part of the process.

How did you become an entrepreneur?

I didn’t know any better. Maybe it was in the gene pool. My dad was in advertising and my mom, to this day, asks a gazillion questions because she is just curious. It seems that I was naturally destined to end up in market research.

True story: When I was in high school and college, and knew that I was right about everything, I used to really rip into my dad about being in advertising. I would go off ad nausea about how he was selling the American people things that they didn’t need and couldn’t afford. I called him amoral. It was a regular thing.

Then, my very first job out of college was working at a small marketing agency. Go figure -- and it was so much fun! A small agency -- that meant that not only did I work directly with clients, I ran the errands, made all the phone calls and the coffee, wrote some items and proofread everything. And I watered down the Wite-Out when we were running low. I was able to learn how to do lots of things because there were only two of us. But that job taught me how important it is to take the time to ask customers what they value. 

Good market research informs growth strategies that are far more likely to succeed because they are customer driven. The trick is to have a qualified third party to ask the questions, hear the answers and help translate that data to meaningful tactics.

Over the years, my career took a few detours into sales and event marketing but in the end, with Ashton, I came back to focus on research for two reasons. First, quality research is critical to developing on-target messaging and growth strategies for any size business. Second, very few people seem to like to do it, which means there is great opportunity for us at Ashton. But because we are a niche service provider, it can also be a challenge to explain. With Ashton, we developed a research process that delivers business critical information to company leaders about how to grow successfully.  

How did you come up with the idea?

My first research project at the marketing agency was for a Toyota forklift truck distributorship. We interviewed the team at the distributorship and its customers. That simple exercise produced loads of useful information that drove a very successful marketing campaign. I did the interviews, collated the results and then participated in creating marketing messages based on the exact words of the customers. Buyers/users of forklift trucks were guys. Shocking, I know. They liked sports, beer and babes. So we created a sports-themed campaign that used Secretariat, Vince Lombardi and Lou Gehrig. It was gangbusters. At the same time, we ran an internal Olympics that incentivized communication across departments.

That first experience is the basis for everything that we believe and do. Ask the customers. They will show you and tell you the way to grow the business.

What inspires you?

I am inspired by anybody with an attitude of glass half-full and a dark sense of humor -- it’s a winning combo to me.
On the business side, I am inspired by organizations that successfully figure out how to use faulty human condition to do good business. What does that mean? 
  • The job is one part of a person’s life. Acknowledge and respect the importance of work-life balance and how that benefits the individual and the company.
  • Collaboration. You need people with different perspectives working together to get better results. Differences of opinion can offer productive conflict which leads to creativity and innovation.
  • Mistakes are a critical part of every successful enterprise. It’s what you do with the mistakes.
Lots of companies talk about these topics. Very few do them. I have been witness to, and worked with, several companies that do all of these things. It is inspiring. It helps us at Ashton understand how we want to build our empire -- (evil laugh)!

What’s next for you and your company?

Technology is sucking the humanity out of business and maybe even the intimacy of our daily personal lives. Email is efficient. It is a great conduit for sharing information. It is not a relationship. Call me old-school, I don’t care. I use email, I have an iPhone and I can text with the best of them. It’s convenient and fun. And -- newsflash -- the other half of Ashton is a technology company.

But, the Ashton 2012 initiative is to push humanity back into business. More phone, less email and as many face-to-face meetings that we can get. Business is about relationships. We are committed to that. 

Our customers told us what they needed and we followed their suggestions. They need better data in their CRM systems and more customer touch points.  As a result, we have rolled out a Customer Service Call Center. The call center is a great resource for any company that would like to update their customer database, touch customers with an extra service call, and/or survey customers regarding new product/service offerings. Because the work is project based, clients can turn the outbound calling efforts on and off as they need. The call center has the capacity to be Ashton, be the brand of the client or to execute secret shopper calls for quality assurance.

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