Friday, January 29, 2010


Selling value & creating preference in a commodity business

I was asked recently how to successfully sell value in a commodity business.  When your product or service is virtually identical to what is available elsewhere, how do you create differentiation, preference, value and market share acceleration?

It’s not easy, but there are ways.  Here are five to start:

Service:  How well you treat your customers can make a big difference, especially if you want to be a premium-priced commodity seller.  Customers who don’t value service will always buy on price, and if you want to be the low-cost leader, that’s fine too.  But if you want to sell value with a commodity, provide excellent, remarkable service at every level and every interaction with your customers and prospects.

Trust:  What’s your reputation?  What are you known for?  Do customers trust you, and why?  Know what your customers value, and establish a tight bond between those values and the trust you create and strengthen in the way you do business, every day.

The Little Things:  There are countless ways to do little, remarkable things for your customers.  Unexpected things that make you stand out, thoughtful gestures that show you’re different, and that you care.  Real estate agents who bring new buyers a pizza or sandwiches on moving day, that’s special.  Auto dealerships that offer free car wash service for life.  Things like that can be huge for differentiation and preference, not to mention word-of-mouth for your business to new prospective customers.

A Consultative Approach to Selling:  Are you just selling the commodity, or are you providing additional value in the sale?  Are you teaching customers more about the industry they work in, the environment in which they need that commodity.  Are you helping them be more successful in the process of buying?  Provide that kind of value-added service as part of the sale, and you’re creating immediate value & differentiation.

Results:  A commodity market doesn’t necessarily mean that every option is the same, and will deliver the same results.  How are you able to transcend what you’re selling, and deliver differentiation and value in how that commodity impacts your customers?  Is the end-result better through you?  How?  And how effectively can you communicate that results-based differentiation?  Let your happy customers tell that story for you.  Use their enthusiasm and success in the market to drive preference and value.



Questions to ask on the last selling day of the month

It's the last sales day of the month, which means staying focused on getting those last deals across the finish line. But with a new month and fresh start just ahead, here are several questions worth asking yourself (and your team) to ensure even greater focus, results and success ahead.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Lead generation modeling made simple

Too many marketers don't model how many leads they actually need to hit their organization's sales goal. Those who do model often overdo it.

But you've got to do the math. Most of the time it boils down to answering just two questions:

Let's leave out sales cycle length for now, to keep things simple. Let's just look at leads-to-opportunities-to-sales.

To build the model, you need a handful of inputs:

If you don't know these figures explicitly, come up with a reasonable but somewhat conservative guess. With this input, you can build a model telling you:

And with that model, if the inputs are isolated and the lead/opportunity/sales figures are calculated with simple formulas, you can make adjustments to the inputs to see what the sales and/or revenue impact would be if you:

Start simple, but build this model and share it with your team. Discuss it with sales management. Get on the same page, and execute with more confidence that what you're doing is leading directly to sales success.


Five tips for accelerating donor frequency and pass-along at non-profits

In any business, your most effective, leveraged marketing is via your existing customers.   Of course, the best marketing is a fantastic product.  If they love what you do, they’ll naturally want more, and are more likely to tell their friends.

But even happy customers often need a nudge or reminder to do one or both of these things.  In the nonprofit world specifically, there are several easy things organizations can do to accelerate visibility, satisfaction, frequency and referrals from existing donors.  Here are a few:

Thank you notes:  Most nonprofits sent the obligatory donation receipt, usually coupled with another request for money.  That’s fine, but what if you separated the two?  What if the thank you note was hand-written – by a member of the staff, or even by someone who was personally & directly impacted by the donation?  Imagine what impact that would have.  Not at all unreasonable to ask everyone on staff to spend just 10-15 minutes a day writing thank-you notes to donors. 

Success stories:  Donors may like your organization or cause, but they’d really like to hear what you’ve specifically done with the money.  Where did it go?  What effort did it support?  Whose life did it help change?  You can tell that story in your thank you note, or it could come directly from a recipient of that support from your organization.  What if, for example, a recipient of your support recorded a quick thank you video explaining what they received and what impact it had.  That video would be on your Web site, in newsletters, shared via your social media channels, etc.

Facebook fan pages:  Most nonprofits have these by now.  But how are you using it?  What information are you sharing?  Too often, these pages feature information about new donor campaigns, upcoming events, and other operational and donation-specific detail.  Interesting, but not nearly as powerful and actionable as examples of your work in the field.  Stories of success.  Focusing on the impact and end-result of the organization’s efforts.  It’s this information that motivates others, encourages your current donors to involve their friends in a cause that’s delivering results.

Sponsor for the year:  Assign each donor to a specific program, or funding recipient, or whatever makes sense for your organization and cause.  Throughout the year, send updates on progress.  What’s happening in their lives, how it’s being affected month to month by the organization’s work and the donor’s specific participation.  Help your donors feel like they have a relationship not just with you, but with the people they’re impacting. 

Sharing with their communities:  You’d think that people would automatically share what they’re passionate about with others.  But unless prompted, most people don’t do it.  It’s not that they don’t want to – they’re just incredibly busy with everything else in their lives.  After sharing the above information and inspiration with your current donors, encourage them to spread the word.  Give them link and pre-written content for various sharing channels – Facebook, Twitter, email.  Make it one-click easy for them to engage their community and share their passion, energy and satisfaction for what you’re doing to help others.



Sunday, January 24, 2010


Three critical rules for running your business

Nice column in the latest issue of Esquire on starting and managing a small business. The author (who has a side business with a partner while keeping a full-time "day job") cited three things that he says are critical to running his business:
  1. QuickBooks is mission critical
  2. Cash flow is king
  3. Marketing is a must
Whether you run a small business or manage something much bigger, that's pretty good advice. Translated into more universal language:
  1. Watch your costs religiously
  2. Manage to cash
  3. Invest in sales & marketing to grow

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Key to closing business? Focus on what you can control

You can’t control your prospect’s budget.  You can’t control their recent reorg.  You can’t control what your competitor is going to say, or do, or offer.

You can’t control the economy, or the weather, or your prospect’s busy schedule.

But you can control how many prospects you talk to.  You can control how well you address their specific needs and pain points in the presentation.  You can control the timing, the frequency, the efficacy of your communication with prospects.

You can’t control the timeline your buyers follow, but you can control the sense of urgency and scarcity communicated to that same prospect.

You can control your sales process, and how well you set expectations and committed next steps both for yourself and from your customers.

Whether you’re in a marketing or a sales role, there’s plenty you can’t control.  Don’t fall into the trap of using those things as an excuse or crutch.   Focus on what you can control, and manage those opportunities actively to get the results you want.


Monday, January 18, 2010


Making a case for innovation in the absence of proof

How do you prove something that hasn't happened yet?

That's the challenge facing innovative ideas inside many companies.  Innovation, by definition, is a leap into the unknown.  But for organizations that increasingly look to past history/results and data to determine future steps, quantifying the likely success and/or risk with an innovative idea can be tricky.

Or, as Roger Martin and Jennifer Riel put it in their recent Business Week column, "Innovation is killed with the two deadlies words in business: Prove it."

They continue:

"We use existing information to understand the issue at play.  But for breakthroughs, there is no rule or pool of past data to provide certainty.  So when a CEO demands evidence that an idea will succeed, he is driving innovation away."

Martin and Reil ultimately recommend innovators use pieces of past history, results, research and logic to stitch together a case for innovation based not on direct past evidence, but clues to a likely outcome.  They call it abductive logic, the logic of what could be.  It's still a leap, but for organizations dedicated to innovation, it's necessary.  The full Business Week column is worth a read, but their parting shot is particularly good:

"Asking what could be true - and jumping into the unknown - is critical to innovation.  Nurturing the ideas that result, rather than killing them, can be the tricky part.  But once a company clears this hurdle, it can leverage its efforts to produce the proof that leaders depend on to make commitments - and turn the future into fact."


Sunday, January 17, 2010


Are you selling or enabling? Adding value beyond the sale

Which way do you sell?

Do you sell what you do? Or do you sell what your customers will do?

Do you sell what your product does? Or do you sell what it's going to do for your customers?

Those are different things, of course.

Do you sell what the product looks like today? Or do you sell what your customer's business will look like after using that product?

Finally, do you sell what you sell and that's all? Or do you also help your customers to be as successful as possible with what you're selling?

Actively teach your customers how to get more value, drive more results, see greater success with your product? Use this approach - which starts well before customers buy - to become not just a seller but a trusted partner to your customers.

It's the essence of solutions-based selling, and it keeps going well after the purchase agreements are complete. This quote from Dunlop Tires CIO Dennis Courtney sums it up well:

“The products that a supplier offers are only a small part of the equation. Generally we could get what we need from several places, so it’s not unique. These suppliers who try to sell the product - who try to show us their stuff is better - are missing the point. What we’re looking for goes beyond the product. We’re looking for business understanding, we’re looking for whether they can adapt to our special needs or whether they can advise and help us. We want their salespeople to add something worthwhile on their own account.”

When you sell, are you adding value before and beyond the sale?

Friday, January 15, 2010


Hot stove baseball marketing ideas

If you're a baseball fan, this time of year is particularly difficult. Still cold and wintery outside, and spring training doesn't begin in earnest until March. But for our professional baseball clients (in the major and minor leagues), this is a busy time preparing for the season ahead.

This is also a great time to engage fans early, get them thinking about the season ahead, and use those engagement opportunities to increase individual, group, corporate and luxury box advance sales.

Below are several ideas for brightening the days of baseball fans in your market. Some of these are more geared towards major league teams, others for the minors, some equally for both.


The innovators within and around us

I’m constantly blown away by the brilliant, innovative ideas around us.  It’s a shame that so very few of those ideas see the light of day.

Brilliant people with innovative ideas are everywhere, but most of their ideas get caught in one of three traps:

Fear/Risk:  Innovative ideas are inherently risky.  They buck trends, go against the status quo.  The risk of failure is quite high.  It’s why most people keep their day jobs and merely dream about their ideas vs. taking action on them.  Oftentimes this is born out of income risk.  I can’t quit my day job to give this a shot – if it fails, my income and family suffers.  Or it could be the risk of ruining your reputation.  Try something innovative at work, and if it fails that may damage your success record.  Or your promotion.  Or raise. This is why so many great ideas, innovations and start-ups are born in a recession.  Individuals with great ideas lose their secure jobs, so the risk of starting or trying something totally different goes down significantly. 

Rejection:  Because innovative ideas aren't what people expect, they get rejected easily.  If you raise an innovative idea in a big company, it's likely to get squashed.  If you run a new idea by someone who's embedded in the status quo, they won't understand what you're saying.  Worse, they'll tell you it will never work.  Innovators get rejected - a lot - but for many would-be innovators, that rejection is too much to overcome.  Either they can't move forward in their existing organization, or become convinced that the nay-sayers are right.  That's a travesty.

Bandwidth:  Who has time for new ideas anyway?  You woke up this morning with too much to do as it is - current projects, current deadlines, current initiatives.  We then go home to family, kids, chores and a thousand things pulling at our time.  Innovations usually start in someone's spare time, but finding that time can itself be a significant challenge.  If you get laid off, and suddenly have a plethora of time, the bandwidth limiter is eliminated.  But for the rest of us, finding time to triage and pursue our new ideas can often ben an insurmountable challenge.

For every entrepeneur, no matter how confident or determined, these hurdles exist.  For the majority of individuals with great ideas, these hurdles can in fact be crippling.

But there are equal but opposite attributes that successful innovators have that anyone can learn and/or adopt.  These include courage, tenacity, passion, organization and thick skin.  But perhaps most important is conviction.  Conviction that you're onto something, that you're right, conviction that it doesn’t matter if others can't see it, if it's risky, or if it takes a few extra hours in the evening and weekends to tinker with it.

There are innovators within all of us.  Everyone has these amazing ideas - be they recurring or fleeting - that can create massive change, efficiency and betterment in the world around us - at a micro and macro level, and everywhere in between. 

Perhaps part of the solution isn't to convert innovators into entrepreneurs, but to create a better channel of innovative ideas into the hands of those with the time, courage and tenacity to make them happen.  Make the idea exchange easy, but with all the right attribution and financial rewards available to the originator.

Your neighbor has an idea that could change the world, but isn't doing anything about it.  How do we change that?


Business opportunity & responsibility in the face of disaster

When disaster strikes, in your backyard or across the world, it's an opportunity. It is NOT an opportunity to use the ensuing attention to promote your brand, sell a product, or in any way take advantage of the plight of others for business gain.

The opportunity you have as a business is to immediately rally your customers, prospects, industry, employees, shareholders and more to do what they can to help. Often that means inspiring their direct and/or financial help. It can occasionally mean just letting them talk, and work through what they've seen, felt or experienced.

It's the right thing to do. Yes, it has the possibility of bringing those groups together aligned with you in a way that can have lasting business impact. But that's not the point.

Here are a few suggestions for how you can use your business resources and leverage to have an immediate and lasting effect for others.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


How I take, process & archive notes

This is what works for me, at least.  It helps me capture everything I need, quickly identify action items, store everything for quick retrieval anywhere I am, and keep my mind clear for what’s next.

I use a legal note pad for taking notes.  Letter-sized paper, as it’s tucked into my leather folio.  Tears from the top.  Every meeting or “event” (brainstorm, discussion, etc.) gets its own piece of paper.  At the top is the date, client name and meeting/discussion topic.

I then take notes, draw diagrams, note action items during the meeting or conversation.  Action items get a square box next to them, so I can quickly find them later.  I’ll use the front and back of the page, as my scanner works both sides (we’ll get to that later).

When I’m done with that meeting or brainstorm, the paper is torn out of the pad and added to the folder on the left-hand side of the folio for processing later.  There are likely plenty of action items on that page, but 90% don’t need to be done right away.  As long as I know I’ll have a chance to process those notes within 24 hours or so, I don’t worry about it.  Clear pad, clear mind, onto what’s next.

When I have time to process my notes, I take one page at a time and scan for action items.  Every action items requires one of three next steps – Do, Delegate or Defer.  If it’s a task that can be done in two minutes or less, I do it right then and there.  If it’s something for someone else, I delegate it and notate that either in the appropriate CRM system or in my own “waiting for” file.  If it’s a longer task that I own, I put that on my to-do list with a due date if necessary.  My to-do list is sorted by context (@home, @computer, @office), so I only look at and think about that task again when I’m somewhere it can actually get done.

When I’m done processing those notes, the page gets scanned with my Fujitsu ScanSnap.  This creates a two-sided PDF of the note.  I add that file to an archive of scanned notes on my office machine but also via Dropbox.  These folders are sorted by client or subject, and the note file name itself is the date plus the general discussion topic.  I save it with a year-month-date format so that, in the folder, everything appears in perfect chronological order.

The beauty of Dropbox, then, is that it mirrors this database across all of my other machines.  Office desktop, two laptops, and iPhone all have the exact same file access.  On the laptops, it’s a completely mirrored file system so that I can access anything offline as well.

This may sound geeky, and it probably is.  But if you’re like me, your day is filled with information and input.   Some of it relevant, some of it requiring further thought or action.  Without a good way to record and process that information, there’s no way I could 1) stay on top of everything, and 2) keep my mind clear enough to be productive for the next conversation or topic at hand.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


It's not about social media, it's about community

Before social media, it was still important to engage communities of relevant customers and prospects.  It was still being done by marketers, brands and individuals every day.

Before Facebook and Twitter, people were still getting together to discuss topics they care about.  They were creating & participating in clubs, trade associations, user groups.  They still found a way to congregate, share ideas, make recommendations of products and services to their peers.

Before YouTube and blogging, individuals and organizations still prioritized getting themselves and their ideas in front of large, relevant groups of like-minded people.  They still found ways to dynamically present their ideas in a way that engages primary listeners/recipients, and encouraged them to share the idea with others.

Social media isn’t about the technology and tools.  Social media isn’t new.  It’s all about community.  It’s about engaging that community, becoming a trusted member and contributor.  It’s about using the community to create awareness, leadership and intent.

Your customers and prospects may be on Twitter and Facebook, but they still live and participate in communities in the physical world every day.

If you want to build trust, awareness and engagement, think in terms of community, not technology.


Recognizing and honoring first responders

We had an opportunity this week to brainstorm ideas for a friend on the East Coast who manages a minor-league baseball team. On their calendar this year is a First Responder Night, a game preceded by a community parade that will recognize and honor the individuals who keep the community safe.

It's a great event, and they wanted to know how they might be able to make it even bigger. Below are a few of our ideas for them.

Even if you don't run a baseball team, there's opportunity here for your organization - to honor those in your community, bring that community together under the umbrella of your brand, and set up immediate and future revenue opportunity all at the same time.

Saturday, January 09, 2010


The three things you must know before any marketing campaign

We often get approached by companies that want us to help them execute marketing campaigns. They need help with copy for their emails, ideas for their new print advertising, or suggestions for how to get the most out of an upcoming trade show.

But before we can be smart about helping new clients drive sales and revenue from these tactics, we have to take a quick step back and ensure three things are understood and put into perspective:

Your Customers: Who are they? What are their core needs, objectives, pain points? What gest them fired up in the morning, and what keeps them up at night? What (and who) influences and motivates them?

The more you understand your customer, the better your marketing will be. And frankly, if you don't know your customer well, I'm not sure how you can put a successful product into play in the first place.

Don't feel like you know enough about your customers? Just ask! Take a list of customers and call them. Don't pitch them, but ask them about their business, their needs, their pain. You'll learn a ton.

Your front-line employees are hearing from customers every day. Your customer service reps, sales team, account managers - they all are a wealth of knowledge about your customers if you're willing to ask and listen.

Your Products: What you're selling needs to closely align with the needs of your customers. It needs to clearly fill a need, solve a problem, or provide a benefit that can be easily communicated.

Too many companies describe their products to customers by explaining features. That's a mistake, especially at the front of the conversation and sales cycle. To gain the customer's attention, you have to speak in terms of benefits. Don't talk about the how and what. Address the why.

And when building and updating products, ensure that the customer's voice is closeby throughout. Product plans and specs are often build directly from customer feedback, but that customer closeness can get lost as decisions are made to get the product launched. Don't that happen on your watch.

Your Objectives: Even if you understand your customers well, and have a product that directly aligns with the customer's needs, there are a million ways to take that message to market. There are countless customer segments, marketing channels, and likely several different product and/or service lines on which you can focus.

Which are most important? What combination will most directly lead to success for your organization this year? If you've defined goals for the organization, and broken that down to a handful of focus areas or "bets" in the marketplace, that gives your marketing the direction it needs to focus on the right customers, the right channels, and the right products.

Now you have clear direction from your customers, your products and your organizational objectives. Doesn't that make marketing execution easier, and much more likely to succeed?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


How to achieve a frictionless sale every time

If you know your audience well, accurately qualify new sales opportunities, and follow a sales process that mirrors how your customers want to buy, every sale should be frictionless.

Doesn’t mean there won’t be objections to overcome, hard questions to answer, or negotiations over price and terms.  Those aren’t going anywhere.

But if you’re meeting a market need, the right buyers for your business want what you’re selling.  They may even need it.  It’s critical to them achieving their own goals, objectives and/or success.

In that context, selling is never convincing.  It’s not pushy, high-pressure or aggressive.  You communicate value, connect on benefits, and let the buyer buy.



Is Twitter a better drip marketing tool than email?

It all still depends on whether your customers are using Twitter, but let’s assume that they are.

Let’s do the math.

You have 2,000 subscribers to your email newsletter.  It goes out once a month, gets a 20% open rate, and 20% of those opens click on something.  That’s a 4% clickthrough rate, reasonable to expect if the list is mostly opt-in and your content is relevant to the audience.

That means every month, 400 people saw your email and 80 of them read something. 

Let’s say you have 2,000 followers on Twitter.  I have just over that as I write this, and get 14-16 clicks, on average, for each tweeted link.  That’s a 0.8% clickthrough rate.  And perhaps 5X of that number have read the tweet but don’t click (same ratio as email), so 3.2% of followers at least see the Tweet.

But the newsletter only goes out once a month.  You tweet every day.

Let’s assume you tweet just once per day for 21 business days a month.  Sixteen clicks per tweet becomes 336 clicks, or a 16.8% clickthrough rate across the month.

Clearly there’s overlap between tweets and clicks.  But I doubt it’s a 4X overlap vs. email.  Even if your newsletter goes out twice a month, Twitter gives you more impressions and clickthrough.  And that assumes only one tweet per day, and only on weekdays.

So which is more valuable as a drip marketing tool for your business?  Do you agree or disagree with the math?

Perhaps more important, what’s your experience been if you’re actively using both channels to engage customers, prospects, partners or other audiences?


How to find your customers and prospects on Twitter

A friend asked me this the other day, so I thought it was worth posting my answer here as well.

A good way to do this with prospects or an industry in general is to think about the keywords they would likely include in their Twitter bio. Then use one of a number of Twitter search tools to determine which Twitter users have those keywords in their current bios. It's not exact, but gives you a ballpark.

For example, if you're targeting contractors and home services professionals, search for Twitter users using keywords such as "landscaping", "remodeler", "home stager", and the like. You probably already have a sense for the overall universe of said practitioners in a given market, so this can give you a rough ballpark of prospective customer penetration on Twitter.

Easiest way to do the same with current customers you have is to ask them! If you have customer service reps or account managers, have them ask the question at the end of inbound calls. Ask for it on registration forms for upcoming customer events. Or if you want to be more aggressive, include a pop-up or other request form when they next log in or visit your Web site.

Give some examples of the kind of value-added content you tweet about so they're more driven to sign up. Your customers will want you to follow them too, so they'll be happy to pass along their Twitter account name.

Monday, January 04, 2010


Communication Strategies for Banks in Transition

By Maria Geokezas

These are turbulent times. Even though the economy seems to be rebounding, banking and finance businesses are still not running at their typical pace. It’s an environment ripe for change. If you are rebranding, opening new markets or party to an acquisition or merger, your communication strategy can make all the difference in not only maintaining your customer relationships through the change but also set up for long term growth and success.

The goal of any communication strategy at this time should be to reassure and build trust in the new bank in order to protect the existing customer base. This is especially true when a bank gets taken over by the FDIC. In this situation, customers have already started withdrawing their money. And those customers that remain are a high attrition risk. The communication tactics listed below are all easy to execute at a low-cost. They need to happen immediately after the bank changes ownership. Time is of the essence.

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