Saturday, February 28, 2009


Win Free Customers Tip #3: Freebies

This is the third in a series of recommendations for winning more customers for your business for FREE, largely using the resources you already have.

This tip focuses on freebies.

Everybody loves free stuff, especially if it’s directly tied to something we are passionate about. Freebies can be used to entice a prospective customer to take a next step, take a test drive, or learn more about your business.

Freebies can also be used to build tighter relationships with your current customers, and give those customers reason to reach out to new prospective customers on your behalf (by giving them a copy of your freebie as well).

The best part of all? Freebies don’t have to cost you a thing! Sure, you can print your company’s logo, or even your photo and phone number, on just about anything these days. And if you match your business objective and target customers together with the right freebie, this can be a very successful strategy.

But knowing who your customers are, and what they want, will unlock your ability to brainstorm numerous different freebies – many of which will have a high perceived value to your customers, but not cost you a dime.

For example, you’re a real estate agent. You want to work with sellers, and demonstrate to prospective new customers that you have a lot to offer, are knowledgeable about the market, and can help them sell their home fast, and for the highest price.

Why not create a series of free “special reports” that prospective customers can download from your Web site, or find available across the Web? With your expertise and customer insight, you could easily create such special reports as:

• Top Five Ways to Get Top Dollar For Your Home
• Ten Home Improvement Products That Pay Off BIG When You Sell
• The Secrets To A FAST Home Sale

The list could go on and on. And the best part? Once you write up these special reports, hire a designer to make them look pretty for you, and publish them in an easy to read and downloadable PDF format, you can hand them out all day long – with no incremental cost to you!

It’s the kind of content that your target customers (people who want to sell their home) will love, and each special report features your name, photo and business contact information right on it.

These kinds of freebies are perfect for the Web, because they’re full of valuable information that efficiently connects with your customer, and they’re easily transferred to the customer.

Other freebie ideas for other businesses could include:

• Free recipe downloads from a bakery or restaurant
• Beauty tips from a new salon or massage shop
• A guide to choosing diamonds from a local jeweler

And don’t forget coupons. Some of the best freebies organically get your customers to come back for more. For example, if you’re a real estate agent, why not offer prospective customers a list of the 20 most sought-after features of homes in their neighborhood? Give them the first 10 as a freebie, and offer the other 10 (for free) when they call in or come visit your office.

Giving 10% off? Offering a free gift when they come to your retail location? Those count as freebies as well. If you understand your customer well enough, and know what motivates them, you can come up with freebie ideas all day long.

The Web is about content, but it’s also about standing out from the clutter. It’s about driving your audience to action. Freebies can become some of your most important content, and most valuable tools in driving more current and prospective customers from across the Web into your business.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Think in terms of outcomes

When you build your next Web site, or write your next blog post, or craft your next email campaign to customers or prospects, answer three questions:

1) Who is the primary intended audience
2) What is my primary message to them
3) What is my expected outcome

Most marketers do the first two, but don't always think through the third. And although the first two are required to make the third work, the outcome of your activity is by far the most important.

In fact, many successful marketers work backwards. If your expected outcome is to generate qualified leads for your sales team, for example, that will help decide who you choose as an audience and what you might say to them.

But the outcome is rarely just about generating leads, or traffic, or visits. When you think outcome, think revenue. What is the revenue-based outcome of what you're trying to accomplish, and how does every facet of your execution gear towards that outcome?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Win Free Customers Tip #2: Your Email Address

This is the second in a series of recommendations for winning more customers for your business for FREE, largely using the resources you already have.

This tip focuses on your email address.

It’s often the very simple things that have the biggest impact. And over the years, one of the biggest traffic drivers I’ve seen is email address. This tip particularly applies to small businesses, consultants, and others who may rely on and market an ISP or free email address as their primary (Earthlink, Google, Hotmail, etc.).

Why so important? When people get an email from you, or anyone in your business, they will assume you also are available at the Web site attached to it. For example, if my email address is, they will assume they can learn more about my business at But if I’m using, even though this email service is free from Google, I’m not helping people find more about my business.

This can sometimes be a scary step, especially if you’ve been associated with a particular email address for some time. But the sooner you make the leap to the “right” email address, the better you’ll be.

What’s more, most email services today offer a “forwarding” program that makes the transfer easy. It will not only forward emails sent to the old email address to your new email address, but will also send a notification back to the sender, telling them where to best contact you moving forward.

Getting a custom email address is also easier than you think. If you register your new Web site address with, for example, your account comes with a basic email service that automatically gives you up to five email addresses attached to your new URL. It’s a package deal that gives you a great one-two punch.

Other Web hosting companies are also dying to give you email services with your Web site, and it’s often beneficial to shop around for the best deals, and the email features that best match your business.

But no matter who you work with, make sure that your email address matches your business Web address. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much business comes back to your Web site, and quickly, as a result.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


It's never too late to start

It's never too late to start doing something you think - or you know - can improve your business. Just because others are already doing it, doesn't mean you won't do it better, and with better results. Examples of this are everywhere - dominant industry players being significantly challenged by start-ups doing something a different way that connects with a growing critical mass of customers.

Last week, Madrona Venture Group - one of Seattle's most prominent venture capital groups - started a blog. One could say they're late to the blogging game, but they're still among the first in the Seattle VC community to start blogging, and their content thus far is excellent. Even the local press are starting to take notice, and are congratulating Madrona for their leadership.

Years after blogs gained critical mass as a communciation tool, Madrona is quickly becoming a blogging leader in their community.

You can too. Not just with blogging, but any business, sales or marketing initiative you know can improve your business, but have been afraid to try because you either 1) don't really know how, or 2) too many others are already doing it.

Start it. Experiment with it. See what works and expand on it.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Win Free Customers Tip #1: Better Voicemails

I'm struck by how many great marketing ideas exist for businesses big and small without requiring a penny of marketing budget. This is the first of a series of recommendations for winning more customers for your business for FREE, largely using the resources you already have.

This first tip focuses on your voicemail message.

If it’s been awhile since you recorded your voicemail message, you might not even remember what it says. But my guess is it says something like this:

Hi, you’re reached Matt Heinz with Acme Products. I’m not available now, but leave me a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Thanks for calling!

It’s clear and concise, but all that caller can do is leave you a message – then wait for you to call back.

Clearly, they wanted something from you. They had a question, or wanted to place an order, or wanted to schedule an appointment.

But what if they could get some of that done online, at your Web site? What if you could give those callers some instant gratification?

What if your voicemail said something like this:

Hi, this is Matt from Acme Products. I’m currently helping another customer, but can’t wait to help you too! Please leave me a short message with your number and I’ll call back as soon as possible. In the meantime, please visit my Web site, at, for a sneak preview of our new products and promotions.

It’s a little longer, but it works so much harder. It gives your callers something to do right away, and gives them a reason to do it. The description of the Web site’s value could easily have been replaced by an offer for a freebie online, an offer of a free newsletter, or anything else.

In fact, why not switch your voicemail around more regularly to see which message gets the best response?

Make your voicemail message work harder!

Friday, February 20, 2009


Nine Critical Hiring Strategies for Every Employee In Your Organization

Few hiring managers consider the significant costs of making a bad hiring decision. And in today’s market, success in hiring may be the single most important lever you have to making your business more successful.

Sure, our economy might be in a tough spot right now, but thousands of companies are still hiring in nearly every market and vertical industry. Those companies (and you’ll be one of them either now or soon) are facing a record number of applicants for a finite number of positions.

Unfortunately, this makes hiring the right people even harder and more critical to the health and success of your business this year. Yes, there are more applicants to choose from, but you can ill afford to make a bad hiring decision right now. Choose the wrong person for the job, and you’re at minimum wasting the organization’s time training that individual and managing them through mediocre results.

Worst yet, that mediocre hire is likely affecting the productivity and success of others around them. Ultimately, there’s the cost of replacing that role and going through the entire hire & train cycle all over again.

Growing your business in 2009 is hard enough, don’t let a bad hire make it every harder. Here are nine recommendations for making every hire in 2009 and beyond a superstar for your organization well into the future.

1. Spend time interviewing
Most interview cycles give hiring managers and other interviewers 30-60 minutes to determine whether an applicant is right for the position. Is that really enough time to get to know whether someone can truly help your business? Is that enough time to determine whether their resume is puffery, or if they truly have the innate ability to excel at your company?

I know you’re busy, and there’s never a great time to take a break from “productive” work to interview a prospective employee. But failing to take the time today can cost you countless hours and days of frustration down the road.

Spend a minimum of two hours with a candidate before making a hiring decision. Bradford D. Smart, author of the book Topgrading, would say that’s still not enough – that you should spend at least four hours getting to know prospective employees. Even if you do this with 3-4 well-chosen candidates, think about the impact that right person can have on your business, your own productivity and success down the road. Aren’t a few extra hours today worth that investment?

2. Ask for work product
Don’t just ask to see past work done, ask candidates to provide you with something new. Give them an assignment or challenge you’re currently grappling with, and ask them to come back to you with some great ideas and suggestions.

This isn’t about getting them to work for free. You’re not asking for a 20-page presentation on your new product launch. You’re simply asking for a demonstration of how smart, creative and productive this prospective new employee could be, with something that’s far more relevant to your own business than what’s currently in their resume.

Hungry candidates, especially in this market, will do this for you. Those who won’t do it probably aren’t right for your business anyway.

3. Demonstrate creativity
Every employee, at every level of your organization, will need to demonstrate creativity to be successful. Few projects go as planned, and even the most menial of tasks often require employees to make countless decisions on their own, every day.

Will your new employee have the chops to make those decisions on their own? And will they more often than not make the right decision for your business?

Think about interview questions that can demonstrate how creative each candidate is, relative to the role they will soon have. This can be related to the “work product” described above, or can be a handful of case study questions that help you literally watch how the candidate thinks.

Don’t worry if they get answers wrong, at least based on how you currently think about the business. Determining their creativity and problem-solving at this stage is more about how they think, rather than necessarily where they end up. Training and more intelligence about your unique business will improve their critical thinking skills. But you want an ideal candidate to be creative at their core.

4. How badly do they want it?
You want an employee who’s hungry. Not just hungry for a paycheck, but hungry to help your organization grow. Throughout the hiring process, how do your candidates demonstrate that hunger? Are they following up before and after the interview? What’s the content of that follow-up? Is it me-centric (“please give me this job”) or you-centric (reiterations of how they can help you succeed – new ideas, follow-ups on interview conversations, etc.).

There is, of course, a line between tenacity and annoyance. Someone who’s following up too often might be high maintenance on the job. But equally, a candidate who doesn’t follow up likely won’t have the tenacity and initiative on the job that you need.

5. Grace & inspiration under pressure
Resumes have been carefully crafted well in advance. Work samples carefully chosen, references vetted and prepared. Good job candidates work hard to put their best foot forward before they walk in your door, and the level to which they’ve prepared can itself tell you a lot about each candidate (good and bad).

But how that prospective hire reacts to impromptu questions and challenges gives you an altogether different and important perspective. Most interviews feature the same questions – tell me about your past, talk about a challenging situation you worked through, where do you want to be in five years, etc. Often times, even bad candidates will anticipate these questions and have great answers prepared.

But make sure you get a sense for how those candidates think on their feet, and how they react to pressure situations that put them on the spot. How they react – independent of how they answer the direct question – will give you an important glimpse into how they might react to real-time situations every day in your organization.

One of my favorite interview tactics is to ask a candidate if I can get them a drink, then leave them with a real-time challenge question as I walk away. I come back after 3-4 minutes and ask for the answer. The challenge should be unique to your organization (think “work product” if you want), but will demonstrate how the candidate thinks, and acts, under pressure.

6. Look behind the references
Every candidate has a handful of people from their past teed up to provide strong recommendations from their past work. You can pretty much guarantee you’ll hear the same thing from those they’ve listed or provided you. But even in that list, you can learn something the candidate may or may not have meant to imply.

Who are there references? What stage of the candidate’s career are they from – their most recent job, or a job 15 years ago? What level are the references – peers, mentors, managers, partners or customers?

I recently came across a resume for a salesperson where four of the five listed references were his past customers at a past job. His success is based on delighting customers, and his past customers were there with endorsements to prove it.

When looking at references provided, look for and explore the holes as well. If their immediately-past job isn’t reflected as a reference, and their search isn’t confidential, that’s a path worth following.

7. Check the online footprint
Smart hiring managers use resumes largely to get a sense for a candidate’s professional history, but use their online footprint to get a sense for the individual and personality they may be bringing into the workplace.

This starts with a Google search, but should extend to some of the other “usual suspects” where candidates typically lay their true personalities bare – Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and more.

What do you find there? Any skeletons or red flags? Any signs that the individual may not live up to your company’s values? This gets to the issue of a candidate’s character, and it’s important. There’s no way character and personality separates itself from an individual when they walk into the office door. You need to know who you’re hiring beyond the resume.

8. Focus on the future, not the past
When it comes to a candidate’s professional experience and success, the best it can do is give a hint to what’s possible from the individual within your business. It’s critical that you translate that past experience to expected future performance by ensuring, during the interview & evaluation process, that the candidate can still speak to and exhibit the skills, insights, creativity and drive that made them successful previously.

Too many professionals, for whatever reason, lose their focus and drive at some point in their career. Past success, for them, doesn’t always predict future performance. By asking candidates about their real-time ideas, what they’ll do for you, how they would approach a new situation or challenge, you get a sense for how they think and act now, not back then.

And by doing this in the contexts described above (longer interviews, asking for work product, etc.), you’ll have a better sense up-front for whether the candidate can truly live up to what they’ve accomplished in the past.

9. Make sure compensation is correct
It’s a buyer’s market for new hires right now, but that doesn’t mean you can get sloppy with the compensation package. Today’s compensation trends are more dynamic than ever. In many industries and for many common roles, compensation growth trends have slowed. For other industries, however, compensation has actually accelerated.

Best to know for sure which is which for your new positions (and all positions in your organization for that matter). Use compensation data, surveys and tools to help you ensure the price you offer is the right price, possibly saving you on labor costs this year and beyond.

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