Tuesday, May 31, 2011

 

Who's really adding value in your organization?

Mike Crill from Atlas Accelerator gave a great talk earlier this month on best practices for creating & managing a board of directors. As part of his presentation, Mike shared a two-part test to determine if your board members are providing value. You should be able to answer "yes" to at least one of these two questions:
  1. Have they stopped you from doing something you thought was a good idea?
  2. Have they initiated something that was beneficial?
I think this test has legs beyond board members as well. How many of your employees or members of your leadership team are doing a great job at what they're asked to do, but fail to stop and question whether it's a good idea? Or fail to draw upon their growing knowledge and expertise to suggest something new?

Which members of your team are best at respectfully questioning otherwise-assumed precedents or initiatives? And which sit quietly through most of your meetings?

Not every employee needs to be this proactive. But depending on the level and role, you want people around you that are doing this regularly, not just your board members.

Monday, May 30, 2011

 

Help your prospects sell, so more of them can buy

Your prospective customers likely aren't making a purchase decision alone. How are you helping make a case to other influencers or approvers who need to give your purchase a thumbs up? What tools are you providing your direct buyer to make that case?

Selling Power puts on a highly successful series of live and online events, including an upcoming event in June in Boston. It's a one day conference with a decent price tag. But check out the "Justify your trip" link on the left of the page, which opens a pre-written letter addressed to your manager explaining why attendance is important.

Even if buyers don't use this letter word-for-word, it gives them plenty of talking points (not to mention confidence) to help Selling Power make the sale.

How are you helping your prospects buy? How are you helping them sell the purchase to their manager or other approvers within the company?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

 

The three elements of every good story

What story are you telling your customers?

A couple weeks ago Ardath Albee shared the three components of any good story (including the story you're telling your customers and prospects). That story needs:
These elements have been core components of effective storytelling for centuries. So tell me:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

 

Three reasons this billboard isn't working

It's a mistake to assume that roadside advertising doesn't work. It does, and will continue to do so when leveraged correctly.

The billboard at the right, however, isn't doing it. Yes, it prominently displays the core brand. But it's ineffective on three fronts:

1. As a consumer, I'm apparently expected to choose between two agents. What differentiates them? Should I go with the guy with more hair, or the guy with the nicer smile? As a consumer, I have no basis to choose, no reason to know which I should call. When faced with such uncertainty, I'm far more likely to not do anything at all.

2. Phone numbers on billboards don't work. This billboard isn't exactly next to a parking lot where people are staying still and able to write something down. It's on the side of a relatively busy road. I might remember a short and catchy URL, or even a call to action such as "search XXXX on Google to find us." But there's no way I'm remembering a phone number (especially when it's placed at the bottom in small type).

3. These two agents are subsidizing the ad for State Farm. Good deal for State Farm, bad deal for the agents. Maybe this helps reinforce choice for their existing clients. But I doubt it's driving new business.

What do you think? Am I being too harsh? I'd love for someone from State Farm, or one of these agents specifically, to jump in and prove me wrong.

Friday, May 27, 2011

 

Your sales reps need bigger toys

Some of your best inside sales reps might need more motivation. I'm not talking about training or comp plan changes or pep talks. I'm talking about organic, intrinsic motivation to sell more and make more money.

For many sales professionals, this isn't an issue. They have bills to pay, families to support, retirement accounts to fund. They're motivated to earn as much commission each sales period as possible.

For others, especially younger reps, the motivation may be different. I've seen brilliant but young inside sales reps have a fantastic month, earn a ton of money, then mail it in for the next two months. It's not because they couldn't find and close prospects in those subsequent 60 days. It's because they didn't need the money.

They had what they needed to pay their rent, fund their lifestyle and do what they wanted beyond that first month of spending their commission. Only when the money started to run out did they get serious and start killing their quota again.

Whether you're working with a younger inside sales team or a more diverse group, outside motivation, goals and dreams are important. The more you help your team envision the life they could lead, the toys they could buy, the more hungry they'll be to earn the dollars to get it.

Even those young reps might not be thinking (yet) about buying a house. Or a boat. Or a newer car. But maybe they should. What if you helped them think bigger, and put photos of those investments in their office or cube as they work?

Whether those investments are serious or superficial, it doesn't really matter. Motivation takes a whole lotta shapes.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

 

Sales funnel optimization works best from the bottom up

Most organizations, when they want more sales, immediately look to the top of the pipeline. The answer, they figure, is more leads.

But if you need more sales, the fastest path is at the bottom of the funnel. Free up deals there and you’re far closer to putting cash in your pocket.

Look at your current funnel, especially your Opportunity stages, and you’ll see what I mean. For example:

Proposal/Negotiation Stages

Presentation Stage

Qualified Opportunities

Qualified Leads

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

 

Ten rules for starting a business

I'll never forget the very first day of Heinz Marketing. It was just me, a laptop and a (pending) business license. I had a meeting with a new client in downtown Seattle in the morning, and a prospect in the afternoon. My mid-day office? The public library.

It was exciting. And terrifying. Still is. If you've started a business, you know what I mean.

I think sometimes about what I would have told myself then, based on what I know now. Which instincts I'd reinforce as sound, which lessons I wish I'd have learned earlier.

So to remind myself and possibly to help others, here are my 10 recommendations when starting a business.

1. Build & print stuff later
My first business cards were freebies from VistaPrint.com. My first Web site was a $9.99/month GoDaddy.com "Website Tonight" template. I had those for at least eight months, until I had the revenue to create a brand and build more professional assets. My first clients, the people that knew me, didn't care about my business cards or Web site. They cared most about what I could do for them.

I still don't have a brochure. Or letterhead. Or anything else that businesses "need" (so they say), but that I've somehow managed to do without. I know other folks who have started businesses and spend thousands up-front on materials that mostly sit in their boxes gathering dust. Save your money, or better yet, spend it on things that build pipeline and preference among prospective customers.

2. Start building your network as early as possible
Three years before I started the business, I begin more actively networking. Every day. I started my monthly newsletter. Began working on my first book. That network (which continues to grow through daily activity) fueled my first two years worth of clients. I hate to think about where I'd be without that network when I started.

This might not help those who have already started a business, but for anyone anywhere with even the twinkling that you may someday want to do it, start building a network. Meet people. Follow up. Stay in touch. Automate as much of that as you can via newsletters, LinkedIn, Twitter, whatever you're comfortable with and your network is already using. Don't overthink the tactics, just get started and do it every day.

3. Obsess about delivering value daily
No matter what you're selling, this is the most important thing you'll do. It's about showing up. Treating their business as your own. Constantly thinking about their objectives and how to achieve them (including and beyond the scope of the product or service you're directly offering).

Value isn't defined by you, it's defined by the customer. Or the prospect who might still make a referral. Or the past customer who has a new project for you. The best entrepreneurs I know obsess about value and it permeates their organization.

4. Hire only when it hurts
You will always have more to do than what's currently on your plate. You will always feel stretched by the current book of business you have. You will always feel like another one or three people is more than justified.

But especially for a new business, hiring is expensive. It adds significantly to your costs, and there's a lot more soft costs in managing people than you might expect. No question, most businesses can't grow and scale without employees. But think thrice before pulling the trigger, and make sure you really need it.

5. Surprise people
This is related to delivering value, but goes well beyond that. This is also the small stuff. Sometimes superficial stuff. Send a client an article you found related to their business. Don't just email it, but clip it out and send it with a hand-written note.

Send a thank you note, for something they did or simply for being a customer. Remember details. Follow up. Ship it overnight instead of ground. Make referrals. Few of these things take a lot of time, and together they might take 15-20 minutes out of your day. But they add up in a material way.

6. Look bigger than you are (and avoid things that make you look amateur)
I may have printed my first business cards with VistaPrint.com, but they looked pretty good. They were clean, included a mailing address, and featured business email that tied to my URL. If you're using a Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo email address for your business, buyers will assume you're small and amateur.

People like working with companies that are small, but they don't like working with amateur. As a new business, you immediately need to prove to the world that you're serious, that you're professional, that you can be trusted to achieve the objective or solve the problem that the client has.

7. Get a mentor or three (or an advisory board)
You don't know what you're doing, by definition. Others have been there, and even if they haven't been exactly where you're going, they've been around the block long enough to have a perspective you need.

Think of the 2-3 people in your life right now, people you already trust for advice or would like to get to know better. Invite them to be a mentor. It can be as simple as a bi-monthly lunch where you bring a short set of challenges to discuss. Or you can create a more formal advisory board that meets quarterly and helps you tackle opportunities and growing pains.

8. Schedule time off and stick to it
You can't work all the time. Even if you love it, even if parts of your business feel like fun, you have to step away. If you have to, literally schedule evenings each week in which you put away your computer and phone when you walk in the door at night, and don't look at them again until morning.

Better yet, do the same thing for a 24-hour period over the weekend (say Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon). Get your spouse or significant other to help you stay accountable to this if you need the help. But this will force you to be a bit more efficient during your work time leading up to those breaks, and it will make you more energized when you pick things back up.

9. Exercise and eat better
Make time for this, too. Sign up for a 10K a few months from now and shame yourself into sticking to a training plan. Bring your lunch to work more often. Be really careful about what you eat and drink when traveling (and consider getting up just 30 minutes earlier to hit the hotel gym briefly).

You will feel better, have more energy and endurance if you do these things.

10. Think big, triage, then focus & get stuff done
You will not run out of ideas. If you let them, they'll keep coming and they'll all sound really good. But you aren't going to be able to tackle even half of them, not anytime soon.

Let your mind wander, think big, but write it all down and review your list often. Separate what's vital to the business now and what can wait until the next time you review the list. Stay laser-focused on what's most important and get those things done.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

 

Social media editorial calendar template

A great way to be more proactive and frequent in publishing new content is to start with an editorial calendar. It doesn't have to be complicated or take a lot of time.

Just start with a handful of themes that are relevant to your audience, and list them down the left-hand side of a spreadsheet. Then, over the course of the next few weeks (listed across the top of the spreadsheet), identify 1-2 specific topics you'll address and write about that week.

Even if you don't follow the calendar exactly every week, I guarantee this will help you feel more confident and prepared to get something published.

You can access and download a starter template via Slideshare below.


 

The importance of morning routines

The most successful people I know have two morning routines. One for when they first wake up, and another when they first start working.

These routines help them get ready for the day, get a jump start on what’s most important, plus they set up the activity, efficiency and success they create for themselves in the subsequent hours.

This doesn’t mean mind-bending stuff. It can mean simple things, like a ritual of fresh-brewed coffee with the Wall Street Journal before the rest of the house wakes up. It can mean a quick but brisk workout to jumpstart your metabolism.

It can mean doing a few consistent, important things before the rest of the world starts interrupting you. Before the fire drills and the distractions rear their ugly heads.

What if, for example, the night before you make a list of the 2-3 things that are most important to do the next day? Then, when you first get to work, you tackle those projects before anything else – before checking email, before voicemail, with the phone on forward.

Some of the best inside sales reps I know do a variation on this. When they arrive to work in the morning, they hit the phones. Hard. They either work through a new cold call list or complete a list of follow-up calls for that day.

Only after these calls are completed do they open their email, their CRM system, and check any overnight voicemails. Because once the inbound stimuli start, there’s no way you’ll be able to work through those calls. And what’s more, leaving all those voicemails in the morning makes it far more likely you’ll get a call back (and move a deal forward) later that day.

Do you have a morning routine? Whether right out of bed or right in th office door, how does that routine help you relax, help you focus, help you balance, and help you set the tone for the rest of the day ahead?

Monday, May 23, 2011

 

Successful marketing is messy

A good friend of mine who has managed sales organizations for years always had a great comeback when a non-sales executive sat in on pipeline review meetings with his sales team (often with occasionally horrified looks on his/her face):

“You don’t always want to see how the sausage is made.”

We’d like to think the buying process is clean, seamless, frictionless. We’d like our execution to be flawless. We’d like everything to work perfectly, to align with our expectations and forecasts.

In marketing as in sales, finding success is a messy process. The end result may be beautiful, but the middle of the process is far from. Think about the last time you cleaned your office, or rearranged the kitchen or garage. The middle of the process probably looked worse than when you started! But you had a plan (even a loose one in your head), and were motivated by what the final result would look like.

Marketing isn’t that different. You set a goal, and know how you think you’ll get there. You get started, and immediately start making messes. Tests that fail, subject lines that fall flat, test groups that get upset. Maybe even beta products that aren’t well received.

These aren’t failures, they’re roadbumps. They’re the countless stacks of paper in your office right before they get filed away and everything is clean again. They’re the necessary evil that will always stand between you and the result you’re seeking.

If nobody’s done it exactly like you’re trying to do it, then it stands to reason that nobody really knows how to do it. All you can do is establish the end goal, roll up your sleeves, and start making sausage.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

 

How to remember more of your brilliant ideas

Mind like water, memory like a sieve.

At least five times in the past week, I've had an idea while driving. Thanks to Dial2Do (and hands-free Bluetooth if you're reading this, highway patrol), I quickly leave myself a message. When I eventually check my email (where my message has been translated and delivered), I realized all five times that I'd already forgotten the idea. My brain had moved onto something else, and that thought was lost in the process.

Without the instant capture, those ideas may have been gone forever.

The best way to allow yourself to be innovative, to free-form new ideas, is to practice "mind like water." That means, basically, to let your brain improvise. Let it go where it wants. And when it lands on something good, write it down (or record it), so you can stop thinking about it and return your brain to the improvisational stage.

The trick to this, of course, is to write down or otherwise record as many of those "random" ideas and thoughts as possible, as soon as they happen. That means carrying pen and paper as often as possible. Using services such as Dial2Do or a digital voice recorder when driving or exercising. Pens that work on tile in the shower, even.

Not every ideas is brilliant. Most, in, fact, are either mundane or, on second thought, not a priority right now anyway. But you're not worried about quality, just capture rate.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

 

You will never have time until you make time

"I wish I had time to blog more."

"I don't have time to build a plan, I just need to execute."

"My inbox is a mess but I don't have time to get on top of it."

"I have so many ideas, and not enough time to do anything about them."

You will never have enough time. And yet, we all have the same amount of time. What you do with it - what you prioritize, how you use it, what you choose to get done - that's the critical decision you need to make, both now and every day from here on out.

You have plenty of time. What are you going to do now?

Friday, May 20, 2011

 

Five ways to get around the RFP process

If you're selling to big companies or the government, requests for proposal (RFPs) may feel like a fact of life. And in some cases, there may be little you can do to avoid a mandated process. But in nearly every one of these organizations, your prospect hates the RFP as much as you do.

With the right approach, you might just win the business, get it faster, make the prospect happy for not having to complete the process, and avoid wasting more time filling out someone else's forms.

These won't all work every time, but I've seen each of them work more than once. Here are five ways to get around the RFP process and win the business.

1. Build relationships & preference early
The better the prospect knows you, is comfortable with what you can do, the less likely they'll feel the need to do the RFP in the first place. In many organizations, the RFP isn't about making the absolute right choice. It's about reducing risk. If enough due diligence goes into the decision, it's much harder to second-guess the choice or the chooser (or at least so the theory goes).

But if you already have the prospect's confidence, if they already trust you and what you can do, that risk is already mitigated. The need for the RFP has been bypassed altogether.

2. Write the RFP guidelines for them
Your prospect hates the RFP process too, I guarantee it. In many cases, they may have no idea how to write the RFP document to begin with (and/or don't really have time to do it). If you volunteer to give them a framework to use, you can not only save them time but create an RFP that helps position your product or service to win.

This doesn't happen if you don't ask. Few buyers will ask their vendors to do this. But if you ask, and they trust you to be relatively objective, you might get the job...and, eventually, the job.

3. Participate only via partners
RFPs can be an enormous time-suck. Why not let others do most of the work for you? There's plenty of business to be had out there by attaching your product or service to another company's RFP. Does it mean you might get less of the business? Possibly. Does it mean you might get business for which you didn't have to do a lot of up-front work? Yes.

To make this work long-term, you'll eventually need to reciprocate. No partner is going to put you in an ongoing series of RFPs if you're truly just freeloading off of their hard work. But worst case, if you play this right you'll be in far more RFPs for a fraction of the time and cost.

4. Follow up later to clean up the mess
Since RFPs are about mitigating risk, it stands to reason that the best vendor doesn't always get the job. In fact, some RFPs are written and executed such that the best RFP writer gets the job, which had nothing to do with the job itself.

Whether you lose the RFP or ignore it altogether, follow up with the buyer a couple months later and ask how things are going. If all is good, you wasted less than two minutes. But you'll also find buyers who are already fed up with their chosen vendor. And in the spirit of mitigating risk (and helping the buyer who just made a bad, first decision), you can swoop in and clean things up.

5. Avoid them like the plague
You probably saw this one coming. There can be big dollars in play behind that RFP, but think carefully before you devote the time and cost (hard or soft) to going after it. How many other prospect relationships could you foster with that same amount of time and money? How much proactive prospecting could you do based on observed pain and need, instead of published RFPs?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

 

Ten marketing lessons from DemandCon

Two packed days of great content, sharing, networking and learning just wrapped up in San Francisco at the first DemandCon. Impressive quality of people and thinking here focused on B2B demand generation, marketing automation and sales funnel improvement. You know a good conference when the word "firehose" is used often.

My notes from the past 48 hours are vast with much left to think about, but here are 10 immediate lessons for marketers worth sharing.

1. Define the process first, invest in tools later
Tools without strategy are a waste of time and money, and at best will represent unfocused shots int he dark. Tools are built with a specific purpose and function, and until you have a sense for your marketing strategy and process, you really don't even know which tools you'll need, and how you'll use them. Draw up the process first, then seek the right mix of tools to help you enable and automate that process as much as possible.

2. The sales process must mirror the buying process
It doesn't matter what sales process worked at your last company. It doesn't matter what you're most comfortable implementing. What matters most is how your buyer wants to buy. The path they take, and how you build a process around that to create a frictionless sale when the prospect is ready to move forward. Anything less than this creates friction, frustration from the buyer, funnel abandonment and lower conversion rates.

3. Lead nurturing does not require expensive tools
There are some fantastic tools available to marketers to automate their lead nurturing, but you don't need them to get started. Again, strategy first, then decide what tools will help you given the time, resources and budget available. If you don't have the ongoing bandwidth to manage marketing automation software, think twice before making that investment.

4. If you're feeling behind on all this, you're not alone
Some amazing companies, experts and consultants shared their marketing automation success stories this week. What they've accomplished and implemented is far beyond what most companies are doing today or have in their near future. But don't let this intimidate you from getting started, mapping out a more buyer-centric sales process, and thinking about the immediate steps you can create to begin generating, nurturing and fulfilling a larger pipeline of business that extends much farther back into the buyer's decision-making process.

5. The funnel concept isn't as relevant as it used to be
The buying process isn't linear. It doesn't go station to station. And it doesn't end after the first sale. Buyers enter and leave the buying process at will, often randomly and without notice. They move two steps forward, and then one back. They stall but refer you to others. Use the concept of a funnel, perhaps, to guide your overall thinking about the sales process, but map your specific customer's actual purchase behavior without a shape, format or linear process in mind.

6. Marketers need to think like salespeople
Your job as a marketer isn't to create collateral. Or build the trade show booth. Or find new lists for the sales team. Your job is to help buyers buy. Educate future buyers. Provide value at every stage of the buying process in a manner that's measured and evaluated based on opportunity creation and closed business. Should marketers be compensated like salespeople? Should they have a quota for new qualified opportunities passed to sales? Maybe. But at minimum, they need to think, act and prioritize their work based on funnel growth, movement and conversion.

7. Marketing stories need to remain consistent through the entire funnel
Great marketers tell stories. They create visceral reactions among prospects, and paint a picture of success that's compelling beyond the bells and whistles of what they're actually buying. Too often, that story ends when a qualified lead heads off to the sales team. It is the marketing team's responsibility to ensure message and story consistency through to the close. Because if the sales team tells a different story, if they wake the prospect up from their "vision of the future" dream, it's like starting the process all over again.

8. Marketing metrics need to tie to revenue, not activity
Email volume is interesting but secondary. Twitter followers is great, but a means to an ends. Marketers need to be better at identifying, tracking and communicating their performance based on revenue-focused metrics. Not every marketing activity directly leads to revenue, but it's contribution, the causality of marketing activity in accelerating the path to sale, needs to be clear.

9. None of this works without great content
Great systems, automation, a well-defined sales process - it all falls apart if you cannot effectively communicate with prospects, with the right message at the right time. This requires great content that's relevant to your audience, segmented as necessary to keep them engaged and attracted to your brand and your story. Most of this content will deliver value, differentiate, build preference, and not explicitly sell.

10. Your ROI from a good conference is you to you, not the conference
It's up to you to meet new people, make connections, find the ties between what you're learning and what you can do back at the office to do your job better. A good conference organizer gives you all the tools to do this - great content, cocktail receptions, relevant vendors. But it's up to you to make eye contact, meet new people, share and receive ideas, and walk away with that firehose of fresh perspective, insight and inspiration.

 

How do you treat your past customers?

Are your past customers out of sight and out of mind?

Doesn't really matter why they left, those customers are still assets for your business. They can come back, refer others, influence others' decisions. Your internal champion could take another job (or start another business) and want you back.

They're no longer paying you, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't (to a degree) act as if they never left. Stay in touch, and continue adding value. Give them access to your content, check in on their progress & success from time to time, congratulate them on milestones.

Systematize these efforts and processes so that you're doing it for everyone but appropriately scaling your required time and commitment to it.

No matter why they left, make it exceedingly clear that you still care about their business and their success. This costs you next to nothing, and the benefits can be huge.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

 

Why the trade show wasn't worth it

Exactly one week ago, the Seattle Chamber of Commerce Trade Show ended. We had a booth, and I was actually impressed with the quality of attendees. Some great conversations with potential clients, partners, etc. Already a measurable impact on awareness and sales pipeline for us.

Around our booth were approximately 50 other booths, filled with organizations that spent at least as much as we did to be there, put up a booth, staff it, pay for a giveaway, and collect business cards. I made a point of visiting each one - either talking with booth staff and exchanging business cards, or simply dropping my card in their fishbowl for whatever they were giving away.

It's been one week. 50 exhibitors. How many of them do you think have followed up with me at all?

One.

If you're wondering why the trade show didn't feel like it was worth it, and you're still waiting for attendees to come beating down your door, you're doing it wrong.

 

Eight steps to going paperless

I love paper. I hate paper.

Independent of format, print or digital, what I want is information at my fingertips when I need it, wherever I am. I want instant capture of ideas, to-do's and notes (which for me still requires paper) but I want that paper to disappear as quickly as possible.

Less paper helps me focus. Less paper makes me more efficient. Less paper is a competitive differentiator.

This isn't paper-free. I'm not there, and doubt I ever will be. But I've eliminated at least 80% of paper from my life with a significant, measurable improvement in efficiency, access and results.

Here are the eight steps I use to make paperless a reality in my life.
  1. Use paper first as a capture tool. I keep an 8.5"x11" pad of paper with me for all meetings, and I put the date, topic and/or client at the top. Throughout the meeting, I take notes, put boxes for to-do's, like normal. I'll do the same throughout the day in other situations with index cards, torn out pages from magazines, anything physical that can quickly summarize and/or remind me of what was discussed and what I need to do.
  2. Process paper into online systems. The to-do's on those meeting summaries are translated into my Outlook Task lists. Meetings get scheduled, outsources tasks get assigned.
  3. Process all other inbound paper similarly. This includes business cards, letters, bills, anything else you get that's paper-based. Everything has a purpose, a next step, something you need to do as a result. If it's just something you want to keep for reference later, there's a place for that too (keep reading). I have a physical "inbox" at both my office and home office to collect these physical documents and reminders for processing.
  4. Scan all documents into a secure, cloud-based filing system. You can use Dropbox, box.net, SharePoint, Google, doesn't matter where. The key elements are organization and access. I use an organizational system that's based on a combination of function and customer/client names. All of my meeting notes for the past three-plus years are saved in a secure database online - organized by topic, client and date. These documents are, in turn, available to me literally anywhere - at my office, on my laptop, my iPhone and iPad. I use a Fujitsu ScanSnap to quickly transform two-sided documents into PDFs.
  5. Online task, calendar and reminder management. My preferred system is still Outlook. I'm familiar with it, our Exchange server makes it available anywhere, and it nicely integrates several common systems I use daily (email, calendar, tasks, contacts). There are countless tools you can use similarly today, may for a lot less money (i.e. RememberTheMilk, Toodledo, etc.)
  6. Actively use mobile apps for further information capture. Whenever I can, I capture information straight into digital systems. I'm getting better at using Evernote for note capture especially when traveling - at events, conferences, and other places where carrying just my iPad is ideal. In the car and elsewhere I don't have access to paper, I'm a big fan of Dial2Do, which via speed-dial quickly records a voice instruction and translates that into email (where I can move it quickly into the appropriate next-step system).
  7. Ubiquitous Moleskine notebook. During the workday, I carry this with me at all times. It's always in my right inside jacket pocket, and a pen is clipped right next to it. Fast and easy note taking and to-do recording when I don't want to interrupt the rhythm of a conversation by flipping open a device. Any next steps or to-do's are processed using the steps above, and "finished" pages are clipped in the corner so I can quickly flip to the latest pages in the notebook.
If you've read this far, you're likely either interested in trying something similar, or think I'm a nut. Whatever you choose as your own process (online or offline, digital or paper) clearly isn't going to work if it doesn't make you comfortable and isn't something you can sustain on a daily basis.

All I know is, this basic process makes my life easier, less stressful and far more productive.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

 

Secret to a successful book club? Don't read the book

I'm in two book clubs right now, both focused on some really good business books. Both - despite well-intended members, great leadership and really well-chosen books - are having a tough time continuing.

For busy professionals, the attraction of a book club is clear. Many of us want to read more, and we figure a book club will not only help motivate us to actually finish, but give us a chance to share ideas and learnings with others.

Problem is, we still don't necessarily have time to read. And because we feel guilty that we haven't finished the book and prepared for the meeting (and assume others have), we bail from the discussion, and eventually from the club altogether.

The solution to this problem for any book club but especially a business-oriented club is surprisingly simple.

Don't require that people read and finish the book.

Instead, to foster a successful and growing book club, try the following steps:
A good business book club meeting doesn't spend a lot of time on the book anyway. It uses the book and its findings/ideas as a launching pad for discussing what the book means for each individual member and their respective businesses.

Think about your last book club experience. Would this work? Would this format make you more likely to participate in a book club in the future?

Monday, May 16, 2011

 

The most innovative marketers in baseball (and what you can learn from them)

The minor leagues have always been a breeding ground for innovative, out-of-the-box ideas to drive attention and ticket sales. And many major league teams and owners over the years have become (in)famous for their marketing stunts.

But in today's game, the Cleveland Indians may be the most innovative marketers in Major League Baseball. Consider the evidence:

Fan Advisory Council
The Fan Advisory Council is a consultative group of 12 to 14 Indians fans, comprised of both individual ticket buyers and season ticket holders. The group meets once per month during the regular season to discuss anything and everything related to Indians baseball and the Progressive Field experience.

Snow Days
This past winter, the Indians turned Progressive Field into a winter wonderland, complete with sled runs, a harvest maze, skating rink and more. No ballgames? No problem. Admission, concessions, merchandise, tickets for next season. All sold.

Social Suite
Want to write about, blog, tweet or otherwise talk about the Indians on your social networks during a game? Apply for a spot in the Indians Social Suite. Different attendees every game to mix up the experience and the coverage.

Picture Contest
Want your Indians photo featured in future Indians promotional or marketing material? Snap a picture and send it in (and show your Tribe Pride on Facebook and your other social networks as well).

Batting Practice Xtra
Premium seats not good enough for you? Stand behind the batting cage and meet members of the Indians at a game of your choice.

Indians Music Festival
Plenty of stadiums host music events, but the Indians are taking it to another level this year with their own branded Indians Music Festival - featuring A-list musicians as well as an interactive water area.

Now ask yourself these questions for your organization:

Friday, May 13, 2011

 

Great example of "show vs tell" marketing

Let's say you're at a trade show. You sell balloons. More specifically, you sell things made out of balloons.

You could bring brochures with descriptions of how you work. You could bring pictures, too.

Better yet, bring a binder of pictures, organized by event. Show pictures from weddings, kids parties, corporate events. Let people customize the examples of what they see based on what they might need.

Better yet, bring examples of your balloon creations for people to see and touch.

Better yet, have your booth staff wear balloon dresses complete with balloon pigtail holders.

You think people stopped by this booth? How do you bring what you do to life in a similar way?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

 

Small business marketing starts with these four steps

Those who manage small businesses (entrepreneurs, Realtors, financial consultants, etc.) don't have a lot of time for marketing. They have less time for marketing that's off the mark, inconsistent with their goals, or ineffective at driving results.

And yet, too many small businesses start their marketing with execution. They go right to questions about email newsletters, and social media, and referral groups, and so on. Problem is, without putting these tactics in context, they might not be what you actually need to spend your time doing to deliver sales and customer growth.

Effective small business marketing doesn't start with the tactics, it starts with purpose and systems. Here are four fundamental up-front requirements that will help any small business accelerate marketing results more quickly.

1, Start with a spreadsheet
How much money do you want to make? How much revenue do you need to get there? How many sales do you need, how many customers, to hit that revenue goal? Then, how big of a pipeline and how many leads do you need to achieve that sales goal?

The start of your marketing plan is a spreadsheet that answers these questions. For a small business owner, it's metrics-based and income-based. Focus on the outcome, what you want to make this year, and build up the numbers that will get you there. With a very clear picture of what that means, you can move to the next step.

2. Define your target market
If you're a Realtor, your target market isn't potential home sellers. It's probably more specific than just a neighborhood. There are way too many other Realtors out there who are looking for customers in that same neighborhood. How are you different? Is it based on a specific target group (parents, seniors, new home buyers, etc.)? It is based on a specific approach you take (i.e. the Condo King, farm properties, waterfront homes, etc.)?

If you can, quantify this target market. Understand what the universe of prospective customers looks like, and make sure an initially-small market share of those targets (as your customers) will successfully feed your spreadsheet-based income plan.

3. Create upstream offers & value You aren't going to attract enough prospects by pitching what you sell. You need to translate your understanding of the target market into offers and content that reaches them upstream, well before they're actively in the market. This is where you can begin to build trust, credibility and preference before any competition is in play.

These offers take many forms. Blog content, buying guides, downloads, videos, anything to attract your prospects to you.

4. Use systems to scale & automate your execution
Invest in a customer relationship management (CRM) system like Salesforce.com or Zoho CRM. Get an email marketing system to automate delivery and tracking of your email communication. Create processes for what you'll do with new leads, old leads, business cards you pick up at events. Determine where your time is best spent and what's more appropriately outsourced to someone less expensive.

Systems include technology as well as processes, checklists, anything that automates and makes faster/easier the things you need to do daily to operate your business, follow-up with prospects, and move more prospects through he pipeline to closed business.

These steps, of course, are just the beginning. But that's my point. Before you can execute, before you take anything to market, be prepared. Know why, how much you need, what you're doing to say, and what you'll do when they respond.

Then you're ready.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

 

Six ways to get more business without directly asking for it

Nobody likes to ask for business. As sellers, we want prospects to come to us, to already understand the need, and to just sign the paperwork and get started.

Not gonna happen, not most of the time anyway. If we want to grow sales, we need to be proactive. But being proactive doesn't always mean directly asking for business. Here are six ways you can be proactive, add value, and earn the business more naturally.

Show them what their competitors are doing
Think your prospect needs a new Web site? Point out what their competitors just launched. Think they need to overhaul their customer service organization? Point out the overwhelming positive comments about competitors and their service on Yelp and elsewhere in social media channels.

Do this as a heads-up, not a pointed "see what you're not doing" way. Your prospects will make the translation. When you give that heads-up, be sure to point out what you like and don't like about the competitive strategy. Point out which things would be priorities to emulate, especially if that can be done with minimal resource requirements.

Show them what other businesses with their same problems/objectives are doing
Doesn't have to be direct competitors or even businesses in the same industry. If your prospect is struggling with driving performance from an inside sales team, point out examples and best practices at other sales organizations - no matter what they're selling. If you want to sell a crisis communication plan, demonstrate how effectively (or ineffectively) other companies are handling their crises. You can probably find a good example to use in the news right now!

One of the best ways to learn new ideas is to look at businesses and industries far different from your own. Your role, your company and your industry both bias and blind you to other opportunities that would successfully translate.

Quantify the value and/or the pain
Teach, don't sell. Educate & enlighten. Your prospect may not even be aware that they have a problem. They may not have quantified how big of a problem they have, which would increase the prioritization of seeking a solution.

They may not have calculated the potential ROI or value of doing something new, something different, something that causes short-term work but creates significant, long-term value.

You can do this in the process of active selling, but you can also do this as a service. Help quantify the need, and they'll likely ask you the next question about how to address it.

Brainstorm with them
Offer some of your time and expertise, directly. You can limit the time you spend, but take the time with good prospects to not only understand their business and needs, but actively brainstorm solutions.

Few sellers do this. They don't take the time, or don't see the value. But this is a highly differentiated way to create immediate value, soften sales barriers, and build tighter relationships with prospects who can either give you direct business or refer you (and your expertise, and brainstorming skills) to others.

Show up (in person)
No question more successful selling happens remotely now. Phone skills are improving, and Web conferencing tools are increasingly relevant and impactful. But nothing will ever replace the value of showing up. Seeing someone in person. Exchanging a handshake, some small talk, direct engagement. It doesn't scale, but you don't have to do it for everybody. Prioritize and get out there.

Group settings offer less intimacy and personalization, but are an opportunity to meet and engage with lots of people at once. Join others or create your own.

Just start doing the work
This is a slippery slope, for sure. And it works best for service organizations. But what if you just got started? What if you started building the crisis communication plan, or designing the VOIP phone system, or sharing PR opportunities? What if part of your sales strategy & bandwidth was devoted to producing work for prospective clients?

Some of that work might be transferable to other opportunities - other prospects, blog post ideas, speech content, etc. At minimum, digging in and doing actual work will make you smarter about that business, and likely smarter about offering similar advice to the next prospect.

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