Have you read the ancient Indian story about the elephant and the six men? The story holds an important lesson for organizations.
In the story, six friends blindfold themselves and play a game where they try to identify objects they come across. As they venture out, they come across an elephant. As the story goes, none of them had seen an elephant before. Each one of them proceeds to feel different parts of the elephant.
After careful analysis, the first man declares the object is a large drum. He was touching the elephant’s stomach. The second man objects vociferously. It is a rope, he asserts as he feels the tail. The others vigorously forward their assessments: the trunk of a tree, a fan or a curved stick.
Finally, when they cannot agree on their assessments, they take off their blindfolds to discover that the object they were envisioning and the real object are starkly different. While their individual assessments were based on valid information gathering and analysis, they realize they could not have been more wrong.
Different points of view
The different teams and departments in a company more often than not act like the six blindfolded men. They view the company and the issues it faces from their distinct perspectives, which leads to different assessments of what is important or what is urgent and, unfortunately, sometimes a lack of respect for the viewpoints and capabilities of the other teams.
For instance, in many companies, sales and operations departments do not share a high opinion of each other. The operations team may feel the sales team makes unrealistic promises to customers. The sales team, on the other hand, may feel the operations team is unable to deliver the quality and timely performance necessary to thrive in the marketplace.
The issues exist at all touch points and involve all the teams. While teams have their heart in the right place and want to contribute, they are caught up in their way of thinking and fail to see the big picture. Their hard-nosed assessments do more harm than good.
Re-engineering and realigning perspectives
As a leader, you must recognize the severity of the problem and address the issue diligently. Ensuring that your teams develop a broader perspective and solve problems from a company perspective rather than a departmental perspective is a crucial component of your job.
Changing the perspectives of successful departmental leaders who have a good measure of self-esteem (read it as ego) is an excruciating task. To encourage a company perspective, invest heavily in cross-functional, companywide initiatives. For instance, develop, crystallize and propagate a detailed and meaningful mission to unite the teams. A strong mission would serve as a higher purpose than individual departmental interests and concerns.
Emphasize improvement and performance themes that are cross-functional in nature and scope. Hoping that the teams will just rally around companywide goals is not a good strategy. Generate a vigorous discussion with all the teams present so they can appreciate the goals and develop joint ways of achieving them.
For example, achieving revenue goals cannot be the sole responsibility of the sales department. If it is perceived that way, the probability of success is lower.
Similarly, efficiency cannot be a goal of the operations team alone. All the other teams, from sales to customer service, HR, IT and accounting have to understand and respect the value of operational efficiency and provide their full support, ideas and active cooperation and contribution.
Help your team members recognize and appreciate the elephant so they are not lost in their individual parts. ?
Quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and WorldNews, Ravi Kathuria is a recognized thought leader. Featured on the “BusinessMakers” show, CBS Radio, and “Nightly Business Report,” he is the author of the highly acclaimed book, “How Cohesive is Your Company?: A Leadership Parable.” Kathuria is the president of Cohegic Corporation, a management consulting, executive and sales coaching firm, and president of the Houston Strategy Forum. Reach him at (281) 403-0250 or email@example.com.
When Experian arrived in Allen, Texas in 1993, the city was “at the end of U.S. 75 and just starting as a community,” says Russell Tieman, vice president of facilities and administration.
The consumer credit services company has grown along with the city, and last year signed a lease extension to stay through 2025. That came on the heels of a 2010 agreement with the Allen Economic Development Corporation to invest $30 million in facilities in return for incentives totaling $1.5 million over 10 years. As part of the agreement, Experian plans to add 300 employees to boost its workforce in Allen to 1,000, with most being part of the national assistance call center or global technology services team.
“We have a great relationship with the city, and there’s a great, highly educated labor force here,” says Tieman.
Smart Business spoke with Tieman about Experian’s investment and what makes Allen a good location for its business.
What makes Allen a good location?
When Experian originally moved to Allen, there was nothing here. Since then, there’s been so much commercial and retail growth, as well as new housing. It’s been an up and growing suburban community, and Experian tends to be in locations outside of central business districts. For example, the company headquarters is in Costa Mesa, Calif., as opposed to a downtown area. Allen and the surrounding communities have good, safe neighborhoods and an excellent labor force. Quality of life is important and you want to limit commutes.
Did Experian consider other locations before renewing its lease?
Yes, but we conducted an analysis and it made more sense to stay. It was challenging to remodel an occupied space instead of building new. But, although we tested the local real estate market, we never considered looking outside of Allen. In the end, we chose to stay because of our long-standing relationship with the city of Allen and the deal we negotiated with our landlord.
What impact did the Allen Economic Development Corporation have on that decision?
They assisted as much with their customer service as the incentives that they offered. It’s very competitive among local economic development groups in Texas, and Allen works hard to keep and attract companies. They are really great to work with — the whole city, not just the economic development team.
What was involved in the $30 million investment made by Experian?
About $20 million has been put into remodeling in the past few years, with at least $10 million more going toward equipment and other assets. The space was originally built in 1993 with cubicles that had very high walls, and it was very dark and chopped up. The work plan is more colorful and energetic, and builds collaboration. There is a lot of meeting space, video conferencing, game rooms, TV rooms, quiet rooms and amenities that would not have been thought of in 1993. We had been working in a space based on 1993 technology and it was time to invest in the property.
There was surplus space, and the space that was being used is far more efficient with the remodel. The final phase of the second floor was recently finished and received all sorts of accolades. Employees who had worked in the old design have been saying, ‘This is fantastic.’
Would you recommend Allen to companies looking to relocate?
Absolutely, it’s a great community. The Allen Economic Development Corporation is a great group to work with and very helpful. That help would probably be even more beneficial to a company that didn’t already have experience in Allen. Any company should look at the North Dallas metroplex area, particularly Allen.
Russell Tieman is a vice president of facilities and administration at Experian. Reach him at (714) 612-0597 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach the Allen Economic Development Corporation at www.allentx.com or call (972) 727-0250.
Insights Economic Development is brought to you by Allen Economic Development Corporation
Most business leaders want to greatly improve customer loyalty, and I am no different.
To drive loyalty to my promotional products business, we have tried all the usual means — low prices, free shipping, membership club benefits, discounts and exclusive product offers.
Once, we even tried sending a vase of fresh flowers after each order. None of these initiatives resulted in the dramatic improvement that we sought. Over the years, we have engaged a series of expert consultants to find even more ideas to try. But in our business, customer loyalty remains a tough nut to crack.
The pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co. struggled with similar obstacles when it came to problem-solving in their business. Many were scientific, and — even though Eli Lilly’s substantial R&D group is staffed with talented technical experts — some problems resisted a solution for years. However, the company did invent a way to solve some of its problems quickly and cheaply.
Use expert advice — of others
Here is the gist of it: Eli Lilly discovered that it could solve a lot of the most intractable problems by giving them to experts from other fields. Simple? Yes. Counterintuitive? Yes. The surprise is that it seems to work.
The company put together an online network of thousands of scientists from other disciplines and “broadcast” their brain-stumping challenges to these experts from other fields. In many cases, the experts solved the problems by simply drawing on knowledge common in their own areas and applying it to Eli Lilly’s dilemma.
Eli Lilly’s scientists, we may presume, know just about all there is to know in their respective fields of expertise. Likewise, in my company, our experts know just about all there is to know about the industry, our products, our customers, competitors and so on. When the subject-matter experts can’t solve a problem, you need to cast a much wider net. If the specialists are stumped, then a solution, if found at all, will come from people outside the field.
Modify your individual process, if needed
Today, our company is using a version of Eli Lilly’s method in our business, which other organizations might also use to address their toughest problems. I didn’t have the time or means to put together a large team of experts from outside disciplines to work on my company’s challenges. So we use a modified Eli Lilly approach: We deliberately, routinely expose our in-house experts to nontraditional experiences and knowledge.
The idea is to see whether we can find our own answers by investing to acquire experiences outside those we normally encounter. In recent months, this new approach has involved my participation in a variety of eye-opening situations, including a meeting with the Cavalia producers, lots of museum visits, a guided tour of London graffiti and a design school workshop at Stanford University. On a personal level, I’m trying much harder to add new concepts and idea possibilities to my thinking.
I don’t know whether we’ll crack the customer loyalty problem in this way, but I can tell you that the ideas we discuss now are fresher than those we used to generate. That’s why my prescription for increasing the likelihood of solving the toughest problems is this: Live outside the box.
Jerry McLaughlin is CEO of Branders.com, the world’s largest and lowest-priced online promotional products company. McLaughlin can be reached at JerryMcLaughlin@branders.com.
If you own or operate a business, you have probably experienced slow periods where revenue was declining and you didn’t have enough leads coming in. But there is actually a way to market yourself so that you are not at the mercy of the season or economy again.
There are two things that you need to control your revenue year-round: an integrated marketing approach and an organized marketing plan.
Here’s how to do it.
Integration means that each piece of your marketing works together in a coordinated way. For example, an integrated approach might look like this: You have a direct mail postcard campaign that drives traffic to your website. Your website is optimized to convert that traffic into leads by getting them to fill out a form.
Then, that form populates your email database and your leads receive pre-determined emails from you for the next six months. During that time, your sales team follows up with the prospects over the phone.
Of course, the specific strategies that make up an integrated campaign vary by industry, but what follows is a good general outline.
In order to fully integrate your marketing approach, you will need the following systems in place:
- Lead generation. For this, I suggest direct-mail postcards. There are other options such as television, radio, billboards, letters and more. But I have found postcards to be the most cost-effective.
- Lead reception. Receptionists should have a predetermined way to handle callers and gather their contact information. Your website needs to be optimized to gather prospects’ contact information, which is easily done by offering free downloads where the prospect is prompted to fill out a simple form.
- Follow-up. You’ll want to go with an email service for this, because email is the most affordable follow-up option available and usually yields great results when used in this capacity. Postcards and phone calls are also great for follow-up, too.
The Internet is also a great resource to learn more about each of these elements.
It is one thing to have an integrated marketing approach, and it is another thing to have an organized, fully integrated marketing plan.
It may sound obvious, but you need to be intentional and organized about exactly how the pieces of your marketing plan will integrate. For example, how many days will go by before an online prospect receives the first email from you? How many days will you wait until you call your prospects? Does the design on your postcard match the design of your website?
The best way to handle this is to sit down with your marketing staff — or by yourself if you don’t have a marketing staff — and evaluate the process, beginning with lead generation and continuing all the way to the sale. You’ll also need to answer the questions that come up along the way.
Some of these questions you’ll want to ask and answer include the following:
- How am I going to generate leads?
- How am I going to receive these leads?
- Is the method of reception going to immediately let the prospect know they are in the right place?
- How am I going to get prospects’ contact information?
- How am I going to follow up with leads?
- How are my different follow-up methods going to work together?
- How often should I contact my leads?
Once you have built a solid structure for your marketing campaign, you can get to work implementing it. As you do, you will notice that your revenue numbers follow a pattern that correlates to your marketing output. And when that happens, you’ll have confidence that, even in your off seasons, you can get the leads you need by simply increasing your marketing output.
Joy Gendusa is the owner and CEO of direct mail marketing firm, PostcardMania. Joy began PostcardMania in 1998, with nothing but a phone and a computer, never taking a dime of investment capital. Since then, PostcardMania has expanded to offer its clients more services including website and landing page design and development, email marketing and full marketing evaluations — all while continuing to educate clients with free marketing advice. In 2011, PostcardMania reached almost $45 million in annual revenue and the company now employs more than 195 people, prints 4 million and mails 2 million postcards each week, and has more than 53,000 customers in over 350 industries.
A few weeks ago, I met with a member of our new business development team who had been on the job for a week or so. A few days before the meeting, I started jotting down notes about the message I wanted to convey and the points I wanted to make. These notes are the basis for my column this month.
There were seven points I wanted to stress to help the new team member be successful in our organization. Since my notes were a little cryptic, I will not only list them but expand on what they mean.
1. 900. My belief is that everyone has 15 minutes, or 900 seconds, of extra time during the day. Nine-hundred seconds where they have nothing to do; 900 seconds of basically free time.
For me, you need to take advantage of those 900 seconds and get better at something every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s gaining better computer skills or becoming a better presenter, just as long as you get better at something every day.
2. A new best friend. This was not only easy for me, but it’s essential. You need to make LinkedIn your new best friend. Since LinkedIn will be your new best friend, you need to spend time with it and get to know it. You need to understand the value of the tool and the power it has.
I truly believe if you aren’t using LinkedIn every day as a business tool, you are not as successful, efficient or smart as you could be.
3. Uncover hidden jewels. No, this isn’t about “Storage Wars.” (Even though I love that show, it isn’t what I’m referring to.) Every company has hidden jewels.
The question is: Where are they located? Where is that great proposal hiding? Who can fill you in on the company history, and who has the best value proposition that will help me sell our products and services and turn prospects into clients?
4. Get off to a quick start. I truly believe that if you get off to a quick start in the morning, you’ll accomplish more during the day. If you get off to a quick start prior to 8:30 a.m., this will be a springboard for a successful day.
People tend to feel good about themselves if they make things happen as soon as their day starts.
5. Each “no” gets you closer to a “yes.” Sales is a numbers game. Every time you get a no, even though it might hurt or upset you, it will get you that much closer to a yes and a new client.
6. Be a creature of habit. Without question, I am a creature of habit. I get in to the office and leave at the same time almost every day. I eat oatmeal at the same time, and I check the revenue of the company as soon as I arrive. The quicker you get into a routine, the better off you will be.
If you are in new business development, set aside the same time in the morning and afternoon to call prospects. Call your friends back at lunchtime when it might not be the most productive time.
7. You’re only alone if you want to be. This point is very important — especially if, like our new team member, you work at home. It’s very easy to bury yourself in your job and try to figure everything out yourself. Don’t do that. Stay connected to your office.
When your technology isn’t working perfectly, don’t try to fix it yourself. Call your IT department. When you’re responding to a proposal, if you have writer’s block, call a team member. Don’t struggle for hours. Remember, time is money.
Incidentally, the reason I had seven points was not that I couldn’t think of another few. My belief is that there are too many top 10 lists, and a top seven list would have a better chance to resonate with our new team member.
Merrill Dubrow is president and CEO of M/A/R/C Research, located in Dallas. The company is one of the top 25 market research companies in the U.S. Dubrow is a sought-after speaker and has been writing a blog for more than four years. He can be reached at email@example.com or at (972) 983-0416.
Businesses have been able to keep their heads above water during the recession — and the agonizingly slow recovery — by increasing efficiency and reducing expenses. However, many find sales growth more elusive.
“Their focus has been belt tightening, cutting expenses and doing more with less, but that’s not going to carry them through the next five years,” says Larry Goddard, CTP, managing director at SS&G Parkland. “The challenge is to focus on growth in a slow-growing economy, and everyone is going to have to be better at sales strategy and execution.”
Sales strategy, however, often gets less attention than lowering costs, as you’re dealing with an uncontrolled environment of customers and competitors, he says.
Smart Business spoke with Goddard about the questions business owners should ask themselves when sales are stagnating.
Are you operating in markets that are conducive to success?
Business success is always tough, but it is even tougher when operating in markets that make success harder to attain. Markets that are shrinking, low margin, or dominated by formidable and powerful competitors invariably make sales growth harder to achieve. Businesses that do not operate in markets that are conducive to success are likely to be consistently disappointed with their sales performance — unless they have strong ways to counteract unattractive markets.
You can make markets more attractive by changing markets, finding growing niches within markets, or changing or adding distribution channels. You might differentiate your product or form a marketplace alliance to gain a competitive edge. For example, a company made cameras that could be attached to news helicopters, a shrinking market, so it modified the product to work in the military, where cameras give tank drivers a bird’s eye view of their surroundings. This small switch increased sales from $4 million to $100 million per year in six months.
Do you have compelling value propositions?
Businesses that don’t differentiate themselves in a way that customers can clearly see the value provided put themselves at a major disadvantage. Value propositions are the customer’s perception of differentiation — not the company’s. Too many businesses, when asked about their differentiation, will say their service — without having compelling facts to support this claim. This response frequently comes from the top three or four competitors in the same market, but they can’t all have the best service. To make this claim, a business should be able to document that its on-time delivery or its resolution of customer complaints or some other important aspects of service are superior.
Even the best salespeople have trouble selling without compelling value propositions. How successful do you think Zig Ziglar would be selling encyclopedias, typewriters or pay phones today? Conversely, how good does the salesperson have to be to sell an iPhone? The iPhone value proposition is so strong that the product virtually sells itself.
Generally, at the macro level, there are two types of value propositions — product and nonproduct. It’s important to know the difference because it changes your sales strategy. Product value propositions are usually more tangible and easier to sell.
Are you using the best people for the job?
Just like most quarterbacks don’t make good linemen and seldom are pitchers good hitters, not all salespeople are good at generating new business. Being comfortable meeting new people, dealing with rejection and persisting in the face of defeat are traits that only a small percentage of salespeople enjoy. These traits are usually essential for success in new business development. Frequently referred to as ‘hunter’ salespeople, most businesses are fortunate if one in four of their salespeople fits this description.
Salespeople who don’t fit this description are known as ‘farmers.’ Farmers are vitally important salespeople, but they should play a different role — their jobs should be to work with, service and grow relationships with existing customers.
Most businesses don’t differentiate between hunters and farmers and expect both types of salespeople to generate new business and service existing customers. This is a mistake because hunters are generally not good at customer service and farmers, while trying valiantly to succeed, are usually poor at new business development.
Do you provide salespeople with the tools and support to be successful?
Here are some important resources and tools you need to equip your sales force with.
- Training — Salespeople need training in selling skills and product knowledge.
- Collateral materials — Effective brochures, websites, business cards, etc., are essential.
- Lead generation and qualification — Because hunters are so hard to find, the good ones should not be bogged down looking for and qualifying leads. Companies should conduct market analysis, identify and prequalify leads. The best leads should then be given to hunter salespeople to pursue.
- Plans and goals — Salespeople need to know the sales plan, strategy and goals. It is harder for the sales team to be effective without this information.
- Accountability — Just like other employees, salespeople will generally be more effective if they are held accountable for achieving their goals.
- Leadership and coaching — Most salespeople need effective mentoring, guidance, encouragement and appreciation.
It is easy to blame the sales team for poor sales results. Incompetent, unmotivated or disorganized salespeople could be part of the problem. However, unattractive markets, the lack of compelling value propositions, expecting farmers to be successful in new business development and not supporting the sales team are more likely to be the root cause of slow sales growth.
Larry Goddard, CTP, is a managing director at SS&G Parkland. Reach him at (440) 394-6150 or LGoddard@SSandG.com.
Insights Accounting & Consulting is brought to you by SS&G
When Andrew Dorn, Industry Leader, Information Intensive Business, Acxiom Corporation, was recently researching the top manufacturers in the United States, one topic kept coming up — the strong growth expectations focused on the world's emerging markets. With the economies of the U.S. and Europe in flux, Dorn felt that, now more than ever, manufacturers need to be attentive to those emerging markets.
"The world is now flat," says Dorn. "Competition comes from everywhere, so manufacturers need to be everywhere."
Because of that, Acxiom has partnered with Smart Business to present a special one-hour webinar: "Driving Global Sales for Manufacturers: Why global growth for manufacturers is more important than ever."
During the webinar — on Wednesday, September 19 at 1:00pm EST — we will discuss why global sales for manufacturers is critical, what factors should be considered in developing or refining the international strategy, and, finally, present a roadmap that can be employed to optimize chances for success.
Featured panelists will be Zia Daniell Wigder, Vice President and Research Director, Forrester Research; Jennifer Barrett Glasgow, Global Privacy and Public Policy Executive, Acxiom; and Michael Biwer, Managing Director, Acxiom.
"As you enter the global market, it is imperative you understand the privacy laws in each country as they are quite complex and some are very stringent, for example, having criminal penalties for some violations," says Barrett Glasgow.
Other topics to be discussed include:
- How to determine which countries to enter and what data to gather to understand regional customer requirements
- Recommended approaches to building country-specific strategies that can help facilitate smooth transitions, lowest possible cost-of-entry, and consistent performance
- Considerations for navigating the complex web of country-specific data protection and privacy laws companies must adhere to in their efforts to connect with customers and prospects
- Best practices used by leading companies that have successfully entered new markets
"The U.S. and European economies are still recovering and the balance of growth is constantly shifting," says Dorn. "For example, China and Brazil have been experiencing strong growth. They are encountering a maturity curve, but that doesn't lessen the importance of the issue — manufacturers need to be diversified and have a presence in all major world markets."
The webinar, "Driving Global Sales for Manufacturers: Why global growth for manufacturers is more important than ever" will be held at 1:00 pm EST on Wednesday, September 19.
Ten-year old Billy Johnson gets home from school and has been thinking about an ice cream bar all day. He wants one badly. Unfortunately, the only people home at the Johnson house are Billy’s teenage siblings, Susie and Jake. Billy’s only shot is Susie. She is a less difficult sale than Jake, a constant wielder of oldest sibling authority. As Billy approaches Susie, she quickly anticipates his motive and cuts him off.
“Billy, you can’t have an ice cream bar. It’s too close to dinner and it will ruin your appetite.”
It’s over. Billy’s cooked without a chance to negotiate or be heard? Why? He didn’t reach the ultimate decision-maker. But wait, who’s that walking in the house in good spirits and with a bounce in his step? It’s Dad!
Billy rushes the big guy with a gushing hug and says, “Hey Dad, can I have an ice cream bar?”
Dad’s golden response: “Sure, sport, and I tell you what, get me one too.”
Yee haw, sale closed!
Think of all the time in business you have put in and the energy you’ve exhausted on attempts to cajole client contacts who love to say no but can’t really say yes. It can be a frustrating, morale-beating process. It’s also a less-than-efficient business practice.
Making a connection with the buyer isn’t always easy, but the first question I challenge you with is, “From whom are you requesting an ice cream truck?” (Let’s think big here).
As you peruse the following steps to find the buyer who will say yes, extract what may help you streamline greater results in less time — because time is an entity you never get back.
See yourself as a peer
Are you confident enough to dialogue on equal ground with the big wheels that run the show? You would be shocked at the number of experienced professionals who will say no to themselves in insidious, unconscious ways. To view yourself as a peer, use positive self-talk and manage that internal cynic. How you see yourself, then present yourself, is every bit as important as the service or product you offer.
Do your homework
Feeling like a confident peer versus a hopeful vendor requires preparing accordingly. When it comes to connecting with buyers, you must know:
- Their company
- Their competition
- Your product and service
You’d be surprised at how many service providers don’t know when a company when was founded, what their mission statement says, who their biggest clients are or who they compete against. As far as knowing your own product and service, read on.
Speak in sound bites
Most elevator speeches make the listener want to take the stairs.
When you speak to the buyer, get to the point and remember that less is more. Too many sales professionals ramble on aimlessly about what they’re selling, leaving the buyer confused or annoyed. Decision makers want you to be brief. So, prepare only information that demonstrates how they will benefit and what their return on investment will be. If you don’t have this ready to roll in 15 seconds or less, practice and get feedback.
Ask great questions
Conventional sales jargon used to say “ABC” which stood for “Always Be Closing.” Buyers are more perceptive than ever and most know when it’s really about your benefits, not theirs. Today’s world of collaborative relationship selling, especially with high-level buyers, should be labeled “ABO” for “Always Be Opening.” The questions you ask are the golden nuggets that lead you down the path to “yes.” Be sure your questions are open-ended and tie directly into the objectives the buyer has and how they will know when successful results are realized.
“I can’t change the direction of the world, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”
- Jimmy Dean
Now go find that buyer!
Joe Takash is the president of Victory Consulting, a Chicago-based executive and organizational development firm. He advises clients on leadership strategies and has helped executives prepare for $3 billion worth of sales presentations. He is a keynote speaker for executive retreats, sales meetings and management conferences and has appeared in numerous media outlets. Learn more at www.victoryconsulting.com.
Believe it or not, one of the most overlooked characteristics of leadership is the ability to draw and motivate followers. But without followers, you aren’t really “leading” are you? In business leadership, this skill translates into the ability to get your employees to “buy in” to the mission and goal of your company or department.
Outside of the workplace, your employees are all very different individuals, each with their own set of life goals and often goals of other organizations with which they are affiliated. So how do you motivate them to concentrate on your company’s goal for the time that they are at work?
You could demand that they do so, but this kind of top-down brute force only goes so far — and usually results in employees faking devotion to the company’s cause for fear of losing their jobs.
The better option is to genuinely love and appreciate your staff. That sincerity will shine through, and in return, your employees will want to help you achieve your goals.
So if you are interested in real ways to motivate employees to buy in to your vision, implement the following actions.
1. Go heavy on the accolades.
A simple “well done” goes so much further than you would think. Deep down, everybody wants to be recognized for their hard work. If you don’t take the time to give voice to your appreciation, it can rot away at your employees’ motivation and overall happiness at work.
Make recognition of a job well done part of your company’s culture. At staff meetings, open up the floor to team members so they can brag about other members of the team or inform the team about an action that another member took that would normally go unnoticed. Even if you think you are good about this, look to improve. Don’t be afraid to lay it on thick!
2. Be an open book.
You would probably be shocked to hear what your employees think your schedule looks like. If they don’t know what you are up to, they are more likely to assume you are on the golf course than off at a three-day conference trying to soak up all the information you need to lead the company to success. That’s just the way it is.
Take pains to avoid being closed off from your employees. Be open. Be available. Be friendly. Let them know what you are working on. The more your employees know you, and like you, the more likely they are to invest in your vision and actually desire to see it come to fruition.
3. Offer perks.
Perks are not the same as rewards. Rewards are prizes that your employees can receive for a job well done. These are important, and you should have them available in the form of company-wide and department-wide games, etc. But perks are something that employees get simply for being a part of your team, and they are that much more effective at building motivation and loyalty.
When somebody is rewarded for effort, they feel accomplished and acknowledged. But when someone is offered a reward simply for being a part of the team, they feel gratitude and team spirit. I offer my employees free exercise classes and recently installed a cafe in our company headquarters. These are perks that my employees can enjoy just for being part of the team, and it helps build overall happiness and motivation to achieve company goals.
Give this a whirl in your company and watch as the culture surrounding your company’s vision shifts in a very positive direction.
Joy Gendusa is the owner and CEO of direct mail marketing firm PostcardMania. Joy began PostcardMania in 1998, with nothing but a phone and a computer, never taking a dime of investment capital. Since then, PostcardMania has expanded to offer its clients more services including website and landing page design and development, e-mail marketing and full marketing evaluations — all while continuing to educate clients with free marketing advice. Contact her at www.postcardmania.com.
In the United States, workers’ compensation insurance is the second biggest cost for employers, representing a $50 billion marketplace nationwide. So when Steve Mariano built a company focused on sales of workers’ comp insurance, he knew that there was opportunity for long-term growth.
“Workers’ comp insurance — it’s not a really sexy area, but it’s been around for a long time,” says Mariano, founder, chairman, president and CEO of Fort Lauderdale-based Patriot National Insurance Group. “It’s kind of like this small brother compared to health insurance.”
But since the credit crisis, it has also become more difficult to compete in this type of insurance business. In the last three years, declining payrolls and cost cutting at many companies has inevitably affected sales for Patriot and other workers’ comp insurance providers.
“It was always a tough business, but it’s gotten a lot tougher these days,” Mariano says.
To grow, Mariano has stayed true to many of the same principles that the company was founded on in 2003, specifically a commitment to finding and developing a team of unparalleled talent.
“That’s probably been the biggest reason why we’ve been successful,” he says. “We’ve been able to attract the talented people and their skill sets and we’ve been able to train the people to do the business, follow the procedures and protocols and leverage technology the way that we at Patriot do it, different than other companies.”
As a result, the organization has had some of its best sales years despite the recession. Here’s how Mariano develops Patriot’s team of 425 employees to excel in the workers’ comp business.
Grow talent in stages
Prior to launching Patriot, Steve Mariano founded two other companies. From experience, he knew that it would be difficult to attract many strong employees with the skills they needed to grow before they got a foothold and developed a reputation in the business. To create a deep bench of talent from the beginning, it’s important to be patient about growth and not bring on people that you don’t truly need yet.
First, develop a core team of people local to your business and who you can trust to get your business off the ground.
“You’ve got to get your business plan up and running with a couple of core people in your management team that you know and have experienced working with them,” Mariano says.
Once you see growth in your business plan after a couple of years, then you have a story to use to attract corporate talent from around the country and from other fields. Bring on a strong core group and grow initial sales and then bring on a strong secondary senior team to continue to grow them.
“With each cycle that the company grows and evolves, you have to balance your ability to sell your product along with your costs,” Mariano says. “This may not be perfectly in tandem — but you can’t have one or two major years of losses coming from the expansion without balancing it out.”
By growing in stages, you can build the infrastructure to support a larger and larger team. That way, you ensure that as you go through hiring cycles that people will see you as a stable employer with a track record of growth. In addition to bringing people from out of town with certain skill sets to the corporate office, the organization has also hired hundreds of employees locally, including about 300 people in the Fort Lauderdale area.
“Once you get to a certain size, it becomes easier to attract talent because, number one, talent starts looking for you,” Mariano says.
By 2006 and 2007, the company’s sales growth put it in the position to hire the senior talent it needed to pull from outside of South Florida. As you add new talent, finding people who are fair and also have good ethics is equally important to finding the right skill sets. You want to hire people who are talented but also people who are ethical and going to fit within the company’s culture, much like a professional sports team.
“You can have the best talent, but if they don’t work together in the same culture, they’re not going to win,” he says. “You’ve got to find the right people that fit within the organization. It’s not just asking who is the best talent, but who is the best talent for our company.”
Mariano says that growing responsibly sometimes means taking it little bit slower than you’d like to make sure that you bring everybody with you. That’s not just in expenses but also growing the culture in a way to make sure it permeates the entire company as you add more and more people.
“Sometimes that just means taking a step back, whether it’s three months, a quarter or two quarters, and focusing back internally on the company and having internal parts of the company like accounting and legal really catch up to the growth of the company,” he says.
But while he tries to be deliberate about growing in stages, Mariano doesn’t place limits on how big the company can become as it continues to scale.
“If you pigeonhole yourself into not thinking of things as big as they can be, you’ll never get there,” he says. “You’ve got to really think about the potential and not sell yourself or your ideas short.”
Invest in training
Employee training is an area that not all business leaders invest in equally, especially in the insurance industry.
“In the insurance business, there is very little training that goes on these days, and I think it’s because of cost overhead and other things,” Mariano says. “Insurance companies don’t have the same type of training programs for young people as they used to.”
Yet training talent is an area that Mariano cites as one of the most critical elements in facilitating Patriot’s sales growth. Fundamentally, the company has had certain departments training on an informal basis for years. An example is the company’s claims management program that started in 2008.
“That type of training and that type of culture that’s been built around our business has allowed us to be successful,” Mariano says.
When you don’t invest in growing people’s skills, they could feel undervalued or feel that they don’t have a long-term future with your company. This can result in higher employee turnover, which in the end, sucks up more time and resources as you hire and train new people.
Retention is a major factor in why Mariano readily invests in employee training that others might find an unnecessary expense. Investing in your people helps your emloyees be more successful, which in turn helps your company be successful by developing and retaining talented employees.
Last year, Mariano introduced Patriot University, the company’s first formal, full-time training program to provide employees with cross-training enhance their core competencies and develop their skills. The company also collaborates with South Florida colleges to put together training opportunities for people who are interested in working for the company and want to learn some skills in advance. This creates a local pipeline of talent so that when the company hires in the future, it has a pool of candidates who already have some key skills.
“We’re proactive now in making sure that we have more than enough talent and with these training programs, making sure that we’ve got the talent and the internal operations ahead of time ready for the next big expansion,” Mariano says.
“There’s no question that we’re going to continue to grow and hire most of our people locally moving forward. That’s only gotten a lot easier.”
Because of its efforts to nurture people up through the ranks of the company, the organization now has one of the best retention rates in its industry.
“If you don’t train people, then you’re not going to keep them,” Mariano says.
“We know if you churn employees, you hire and then fire, hire and fire, it really increases your costs as a company. It’s cheaper to retain them by training them in their job functions and cross-training them in other department skills, so that as one department grows maybe faster than another, we can use their skill sets in different departments.”
In an industry with a lot of big players, Patriot’s entrepreneurial culture is one of the reasons many job seekers are drawn to work there. When you have a culture that allows people to have a more direct impact on your business, you can attract the kind of innovative thinkers that can help you grow.
“We have procedures and protocols too, but we’re always looking for our employees to find a better way to do something and to innovate within their organization and within their departments,” Mariano says.
Having an innovative culture that embraces new ways of doing things tends to attract those with the desire to succeed.
“Talent is looking for a way to put a fingerprint on the company they’re working for,” Mariano says. “If you come to work for a company like us, you can really put a fingerprint in your area and be able to look five, ten years from now and say, ‘I really had something to do with this part of the business plan and help with the building of the company.’”
By not having just standard ways of doing things, Mariano says you make it harder for employees to just come in, check a box or work a 9-to-5 just to pull a paycheck.
“We’re looking for ideas of how to better our company in all areas, from the mail room all the way up to the top financial parts of the company,” Mariano says. “If there is a better procedure and protocol or a way to innovate it to service our customers better or make us a better profit, then I ask for those types of things and very much support that type of thought process.”
As a result, the company has been a leading innovator in its field, specifically when it comes to technology. It was among the first to spearhead the use of iPhones, iPads and mobile technology to video stream information for surveillance. Being able to use the mobile devices and video streaming tools nationwide gives insurance adjusters, investigators and legal teams the ability to help employers evaluate compensation or compensability issues and make faster decisions in fraud cases.
Because fraud makes up about 20 percent of the workers’ comp cost in the United States, these advances make a big difference in helping the company differentiate itself for growth.
“Very few workers’ comp competitors really use that kind of Apple innovation on the front end to be able to be out in the field getting this information,” Mariano says.
“It’s billions of dollars being wasted each year in fraud. If you can just stop a small piece of that going on in your own companies, then that is a big thing.”
As a result, Mariano says that the company is planning its biggest expansion in the last three years. Investing in a culture and training to engage employees has helped it attract new talent as well as capture market share from its larger, but less nimble, competitors. It recently opened up offices in the Los Angeles area as well as major cities including Sacramento and St. Louis, and in 2011, the company added 85 new jobs to downtown Fort Lauderdale.
“So we’ve been an innovator,” Mariano says. “We’ve been able to come in, leverage new technologies and really come into the marketplace with a fresh set of ideas and reduce costs for the employers.”
How to reach: Patriot National Insurance Group, (954) 670-2900 or www.pnigroup.com
1. Be patient in your talent search.
2. Create formal training for employee development.
3. Nurture employees’ engagement in innovation.
The Mariano File
Chairman, founder, president and CEO
Patriot National Insurance Group
Born: New Jersey
Education: Georgia Tech and Ursinus College — graduated with a degree in economics.
What would your friends be surprised to find out about you?
Most people don't know I read a new book just about every week. There is so much information out there, so many experiences to benefit from.
What is one part of your daily routine that you wouldn't change?
My morning workout. Mental and physical shape are linked, and the time I spend every morning at the gym helps me clear my head, set my priorities for the day, and build the energy I need to take on the day's challenges.
What’s the toughest business decision you’ve ever had to make?
At our prior company right after 9/11, the marketplace for insurance really shrank, and I was in a situation where I had to eliminate about 85 to 100 employees just because the business model wasn’t supporting it. To me, any time you have to eliminate a position or you have to fire someone, from a leadership position, you haven’t succeeded. Any time you have to let someone go, that means you either didn’t train them correctly or they weren’t able to deliver what you thought they would be able to deliver. Or in the case when you just have a bad event like 9/11 — you just have no control over it – it’s even harder because as a CEO you have great people sometimes and there’s just nothing you can do about it.
What do you see for future growth in Florida?
I think South Florida and Florida will do a lot better over the next couple of years. I know it’s been very tough for the state in a lot of areas … and I think just given the amount of business that we’re doing with Latin and South America, and just how wonderful a state this is — no state income tax and all of that — there’s a good balance for its growth. We’re really bullish that there’s going to be better times ahead, and we look forward to being part of the community here.
Jay Honsaker was very proud when his custom injection molding company met ISO 9000 standards for quality — and that the ISO auditor called Design Molded Plastics a benchmark company.
“If our people weren’t performing, we wouldn’t receive praise like that from our auditor and from our customers — it just wouldn’t happen,” says Honsaker, president and co-owner.
But the picture is even brighter. In 2011, the company had its best sales year in its 27-year history, tallying more than $20 million.
“We are 99.98 percent for on-time delivery, which in a lot of cases is unheard of,” he says. “From a quality standpoint, we’re at 5.8 Sigma overall, which is phenomenal. That comes from a lot of dedication, and that is a culture.”
Smart Business spoke with Honsaker on how building a culture of excellence is the key to such outstanding results.
Q: It sounds like you have groomed some great employees there. How was that achieved?
A: You mentioned a keyword — employees. It’s all about the employees. We’ve got four walls here and equipment inside, which is a great thing, but your employees will make you or break you. When we hire, we have stringent requirements, and we realize right away if an individual is going to maintain our culture when they start with us.
Most of our people are not here to play. We are here to work hard for our customers. We don’t carry a coffee cup in one hand and a cigarette in the other. We pay for two eyes and two hands and that’s what we expect. It really comes down to the individuals … You could tell somebody until you are blue in the face how you are and what your expectations are, but until they live it, they don’t realize how serious you are.
Once they come on board, they realize during the first week that we are pretty serious about what we proclaimed in our interview process. Then they make a decision: Do they want to live within the constraints of the organization or don’t they?
But if they feel that there is no way they could adapt to our method of doing business, then typically they exit the company. I don’t think we have to terminate; I think they realize that it’s just not a good fit for them.
Q. What advice would you give to engage employees and create a culture of excellence?
A: First off, you’ve got to have that discipline inside. If you don’t personally have it, then it’s not going to work. You actually have to demonstrate how you are and how you want things to be, and that comes from inside. You have to be driven from within to do your absolute best. If you can’t demonstrate that, then you’re not going to have followers believing in you.
Q. What are other key steps to a company culture of excellence?
A: It’s a very high level of commitment. One of the biggest challenges is to hire people that you could trust, that you could count on, that share your commitment because ultimately, who pays the bills? Your customer does. So without customers you have nothing. You could have a beautiful facility, beautiful equipment, great people, but if you’re not satisfying your customer, they’re not going to be there and you’re not going to have an income to make payroll.
So it really comes down to the fact that they have to share the commitment to the customer. That has huge value, because face it, as a president of the company I don’t hear every phone call. I don’t see every e-mail. I don’t feel customers’ responses when they are talking to one of our managers. Or even customer service, that has great value so those people have to fully appreciate the fact that your customers are paying the bills. They are the leader. They tell you what they want when they want it, and your level of discipline has to be to meet their expectations. If you don’t have that, then it can’t be trained.
How to reach: Design Molded Plastics, (330) 963-4400 or www.designmolded.com
In my more than 30 years of guiding sales professionals, I find the ones who are the most successful are pleasantly persistent. It’s an approach that complements their sales techniques, enabling them to control their dealings with prospects and customers in a positive, professional manner. And the nice thing about being pleasantly persistently is that it can work in just about any industry, profession and not-for-profit institution that sells a product, offers a service or seeks financial support.
It applies directly to pursuing a sales prospect, setting up a sales visit, following up on a sales presentation and, finally, making a close.
Remember: Before someone sells something to someone, the chances are a buyer will have told a seller “no” a minimum of three to five times.
When someone begins a career in sales, there’s a natural tendency to avoid becoming pushy. After all, an aggressive salesperson fits a well-worn stereotype. For this reason, many young sales professionals are reluctant to actively reach out to a prospect or follow up a sales communication.
They often wait for a target to make a move, having made a “one and done” sales call. Fearing rejection is human nature.
Someone who is less assertive will give up after initial resistance and won’t get in front of as many prospects as necessary.
Problem is, these days salespeople face a formidable array of electronic “gatekeepers” – from voicemail to caller I.D. These tend to work to a buyer’s, not a seller’s, advantage, since a buyer can pick and choose when to respond, if at all.
“I see so-and-so is calling me. Who is he? Why should I talk to him?” Or, “I recognize that name. What does she want now?”
In sales, a prospect can now avoid someone indefinitely. How simple it was not so many years ago when all a salesperson had to do was wait for a prospect, or someone in the prospect’s office, to answer the phone that kept ringing and ringing.
Delay also works to a seller’s disadvantage. As I like to tell people, “Time kills the deal.” Delay is deadly.
So here’s where I believe the value of being pleasantly persistent can come into play: It has to do with avoiding that “one and done” trap of giving up on a sales call after one attempt or one rejection during a close.
Being pleasantly persistent is a sales game-changer. It enables a salesperson to stop assuming a prospect has no interest in a product or service. It encourages self-confidence. And it can turn a sales call into what it really should be: an invitation for a prospect to learn about a product or service’s direct benefit, and for a salesperson to find out if a prospect really has a need for what is being discussed.
Get in the door
For starters, it might require some creativity to get in position to make a sales call.
A bank I know, for example, mailed 50 large security deposit bags to 50 prospects. To claim an enclosed gift, the recipient had to call the bank’s branch manager. That enabled the manager to visit the caller with the key to unlock the bank. The bank was pleased with the response.
Another way to get around a “gatekeeper” could be a clue in a magazine, newspaper or blog. There, a story might publicize an event honoring a prospect. That venue could be an opportunity to introduce oneself.
Prepare for resistance
Being pleasantly persistent is crucial in making a sale, too.
In sales, I have found, six obstacles can block a successful close:
1) It’s too expensive.
2) For whatever reason, a buyer puts off making a decision.
3) Perhaps there is an issue with the product or service under discussion.
4) Some personality issue surfaces between both parties.
5) The competition might be perceived to have something better or cheaper.
6) Or the buyer has suddenly been replaced by someone else following the initial sales call.
Because of these dynamics, a salesperson must properly prepare and practice. His approach should be to find out a customer’s need and then to provide a solution.
After all, in sales a salesperson really is providing a solution – not just a product or service. And he should anticipate at least three to five rejections before successfully getting an order.
Maybe I’m different. But I consider rejection as a “buying signal,” another opportunity. In other words, if a salesperson, for whatever reason, cannot close the first time, it’s crucial he does so at the next opportunity. Invariably, a buyer will never say “no, just not now.”
That means being pleasantly persistent by setting a specific date to follow-up – either in person, by email or telephone – and getting specific email addresses and telephone numbers to “cut to the chase,” to “win fast or lose fast.”
Setting deadlines minimizes ambiguity and indecision, allowing the salesperson to control the timetable. Doing so in a pleasantly persistent manner can dramatically increase success, leading to what I call the three “R’s” – repeat business, referrals and requests for additional products or services.
So “don’t wait for your ship to come in; plunge into the water and swim out to it first!”
Marvin E. Montgomery, author of “Practice Makes Perfect, The Professional’s Guide to Sales Success,” is a nationally acclaimed sales trainer and speaker. For more than 30 years, his “Marvinizing” has benefited tens of thousands of sales and customer-service professionals across the country. Visit www.marvinmontgomery.com.
Lisa Huntsman knows that the key to success in today’s economic climate isn’t just finding ways to do more with less but, in many cases, just doing more with the same.
“Those that can respond quicker with good information are the ones more than likely that will get awarded the business,” says Huntsman, the president of the New Philadelphia, Ohio-based manufacturer Lauren Manufacturing.
Huntsman has been focused on this task since the recession first impacted the manufacturing industry and Lauren’s 250 employees back in 2008.
“There is a whole crunch of everything has to be the same quality but just continue to push it on the lead-time standpoint,” says Huntsman. “I think we’re doing a good job of delivering on that.”
To keep up with increasingly shorter lead times, get the highest return for shareholders and meet the needs of new and potential customers, the company had to reevaluate its systems and staffing to make efficiency the top priority.
“If we just keep doing what we do then we’ll always get what we get,” Huntsman says.
“There’s a lot of revenue invested from the company’s standpoint to get new projects launched, and we’re really working closer with our sales teams and with our customers to make it quicker when possible and make sure we’re not dropping the ball anymore.”
The first step was looking for inefficiencies in staffing, including duplicate personnel or areas of waste in the administrative process.
“It’s not just saying, ‘OK, it’s just getting too busy over here,” Huntsman says. “It’s do we look at the job content? Are there some things our folks are doing that seem unnecessary?”
The organization has also been more conscious about adding new people, ensuring it builds its team with talented people, who have targeted roles and are capable of making informed decisions to drive results.
“We all make mistakes, but there are some people who are very conservative and are never willing to put themselves out there,” she says. “We’re looking for the people that are willing to take a very educated set of information and say, ‘Let’s go with this.’”
Empowering employees to make decisions enables a faster speed to market for products and services by elimination bottlenecks in decision-making that slow progress.
“We believe in driving the decision-making process to the front line as much as possible from customer service and engineering, giving them the tools so they can make those decisions and feel empowered to do that,” Huntsman says.
Part of that empowerment is also the result of coaching. Huntsman says she takes time to talk to employees regularly on an informal basis or after the big meetings in order to learn their challenges and figure out how the company can facilitate and empower their decision-making.
“I think knowing that they have our support that it’s OK,” she says.
Huntsman says the other key to increasing operational efficiency is setting clear priorities so that people don’t get distracted from the most important goals, for example, speed of service. By making sure that your company continues to partner with the right customers, work on the right projects and keep people focused in the right areas, you can continue to deliver at a competitive level.
“No. 1 is making sure that we don’t get distracted trying to be everything to everyone, and then nothing gets accomplished,” Huntsman says.
By being able to do more with its people, operations and systems, the company was able to achieve 12 percent sales growth in 2010.
“We have made positive strides,” Huntsman says. “Our business has continued to increase in sales, and I think everybody, not just Lauren, has to work harder with less people than we did prior to the recession. I don’t see that changing.”
How to reach: Lauren Manufacturing, (330) 339-3373 or www.lauren.com
Divide and conquer
One of the reasons Lauren Manufacturing has accomplished growth despite operating in a challenging industry is by continuing to be diversified in the business sectors that it serves.
“We have a couple targets that we’re always going after,” says President Lisa Huntsman. “It’s just trying to keep a balanced portfolio of customers in the industries that we’re in that has been the key to our success. That’s how it started and that’s how we continue to move forward.”
This diversity gives the company the advantage of increasing penetration in a range of industries, including transportation, solar and lighting. While many of these sectors haven’t grown on their own, the company has taken more of the market share from its competitors by targeting business opportunities and focusing its efforts where they are most needed.
“I always go back to say making sure that we don’t put all of our eggs in one basket keeps the company healthy,” Huntsman says. “We really try to make sure that no one customer has more than 10 percent of our business to make sure that we’re serving multiple sectors.”
Again, this is only achieved by having team of people who can effectively make good decisions based on their knowledge of customers and the business.
“In our business, from the time you quote to the time when you can turn it into production can be six to 12 months,” Huntsman says. “So you’ve got to make sure you’re making the right decisions upfront, because that’s going to have an impact down the road.”
Darryl Jones has watched each year as the number of convention attendees who travel to St. Louis drops a little bit more. Jones is managing partner at D&D Concessions LLC and is responsible for food service at the America’s Center Convention Complex in St. Louis.
“Now that we don’t have the 20 million people coming in, we may have six or seven million people coming into St. Louis,” Jones says. “It’s a challenge. So in our business, what do we do? We have to look outside the box because we can’t get the big conventions here anymore.”
In short, Jones had to reinvent his business. It was either that, or close up shop for good, and he wasn’t prepared to do that for his 350 employees.
“You have to have the presence to always look at the landscape and see how it’s changing,” Jones says. “At one time, we depended on X amount of conventions to generate 80 percent of our revenue. Now that number is only generating 50 percent. So how do we make up this gap?”
The simple answer is you look for other means of generating revenue. But you take caution to not make every idea out to be the grand solution to all your problems.
“You try to win people over by saying, ‘OK, look. Let’s just try it like this. Let’s tweak it a little bit.’ You try to compromise,” Jones says. “If it doesn’t work or we don’t see any change, we can always go back. There’s nothing wrong with going back. There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘Hey, we made a mistake.’”
You may not even have to trot out a new idea if one of your competitors has tried a new initiative to get their business going again.
“Instead of reinventing the wheel, you look to see what they’ve done and you try to tweak that,” Jones says. “Very rarely will you have that one person to jump out there. If that person has jumped out there, you look at it, analyze it and you say, ‘OK, we can tweak this just a little bit better. They may not have thought about this. They’ve changed the landscape a little bit, but let’s take it a little further.’”
The key is to take a measured approach to change. If your idea works, great. But if it doesn’t, your people will still be ready to follow you with the next option.
All this relies, of course, on your ability to get out there and get engaged with your people.
“If you’re the CEO that’s always behind closed doors and you’re always meeting with senior staff and you never engage the junior staff and the hourly folks, you may have a problem,” Jones says. “You’re going to become like an untouchable.”
Get to know your people and let them get to know you. Not the polished and controlled you that only engages in small talk. Be the leader who really gets to know what your people are all about and what they like about their work and what they find challenging about it.
“You have to know them,” Jones says. “Once you engage them, you have just as much passion about their families as they have. Once you buy them over, they will do it for you. It will be a place where they think, ‘Hey, I can go to the boss’s office anytime I want to.’”
You may be thinking to yourself, ‘I always talk about my open-door policy.’ But if you don’t have anyone coming through your open door to see you, maybe you’re putting other signs out there that convey the message that you really don’t want to hear from your people.
“If the hourly employees can see you get out there and you sit down and you put that pattern together and you say, ‘Hey, this is how you’re supposed to do it,’ they’re going to say, ‘Wow, this person really knows what they are talking about,’” Jones says. “They will do anything for you if they know you care.”
How to reach: D&D Concessions LLC, (314) 429-3400
If you’re feeling out of touch with your customers, Darryl Jones has a suggestion on how to reconnect that you may not have thought of before. But he insists it will produce results.
“You can probably incorporate any business you have when you start looking at fashion magazines,” says Jones, managing partner at D&D Concessions LLC. “Those guys are always on the cutting edge. The auto industry didn’t get to where it is by saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to go with the same old-style look. They started looking at those fashion magazines and saying, ‘Hey, you know what? These are the colors people are looking at.’
“They are looking at tech magazines and saying, ‘We need to incorporate these things. These young adults, they want this type of experience in a car.’”
Jones believes much can be gained from the younger generation that is establishing itself and setting the trends for the future.
“You’ll pick up a lot,” Jones says. “What do you like? What type of atmosphere are you looking for? What types of colors do you like? Talk to the younger generation because that’s your next source of revenue.”
And everyone should be taking part in that dialogue.
“It’s everyone’s responsibility,” Jones says. “From the guy sweeping the floor to the guy signing the checks, it’s everyone’s responsibility because everyone is traveling in different circles.”
Companies invest great amounts of time, effort and capital on building the right website to resonate with their target customers and convert those targets into leads for the business. “Building and marketing a great website that generates volumes of leads often comes with the next-level challenge of efficiently managing those leads to quickly convert to sales,” advises says Kevin Hourigan, president and CEO of Web design, Web development and online marketing agency, Bayshore Solutions.
Smart Business spoke with Hourigan about how to connect the right technologies to effectively manage your leads and close sales faster.
What are the critical elements I need to manage my lead to sale process?
Standing alone, a business website typically processes a new lead from a quote request or a contact form submission by sending an email alert to someone, and perhaps storing those form submissions in the administrative back end of the website. Unless a lot of detailed, accurate and disciplined manual documentation is maintained about each lead, the ability to track them through to the sale and see key metrics such as best performing lead sources, campaigns, etc. is lost. Critical business decisions could then be made based on faulty information and opinion. The technology exists today to eliminate this risk, at investment levels that accommodate most sizes of businesses.
In order to stay competitive in today’s business climate, intelligence needs to be exchanged between marketing and sales that streamlines the progress of leads through your sales funnel and enables more, better and faster closed sales. The way to enable this is by integrating your website with a Customer Relations Management (CRM) system and a Marketing Automation platform.
What does CRM and marketing automation do?
A CRM system is your repository of collected, and real-time information on all leads, customers and contacts related to your business. It acts as your marketing and sales process database and can categorize and segment your contacts on a wide variety of items for use in reporting, and grouping for specific action. CRM Systems can be proprietary and stored within a business’s IT infrastructure, or accessed via the ‘Cloud’ through a variety of providers. CRM can focus only on sales process aspects, or expand to cover end to end (marketing and lead gen through invoicing and collections) functions.
Each business applies customization to a CRM to serve their unique needs and procedures. In addition to housing your valuable prospect and client information and serving it up as needed, data from your CRM gives you objective insights to your marketing, sales and business performance.
Marketing automation grew out of campaign and email marketing beginnings, and has become the current standard of best practices. Today, enlisting just an email sending tool without using the advanced features of marketing automation is like driving blindfolded on a busy interstate: Your chances of getting to your destination (customer acquisition) without wrecking your brand integrity are extremely slim. The missing piece that marketing automation provides is the live, real time ‘sight’ into the ongoing actions of the target audiences interacting with your business.
Marketing automation allows you to communicate, evaluate and accelerate your leads through your sales funnel. Email (and even print) communications to your audiences with customized, relevant information, triggered from their ongoing behaviors are efficiently managed using marketing automation. This integration enables specific and more effective lead nurturing without requiring large amounts of time and staff that a stand-alone tool would.
Further, lead qualification and scoring is greatly enhanced with marketing automation’s ability to monitor your audiences’ ongoing interaction with your website. Specific characteristics and actions can be ‘scored’ to identify buying-stage and readiness for sales contact. Alerts and workflows can be triggered at any number of points in this progression. An immediate feedback stream of all this data to your CRM and to your marketing and sales team is a key benefit of marketing automation. They now know who is reading your messaging and can prioritize their responses based on the content you are sending that they are engaging with.
How does this integration help me sell better and faster?
In an integrated system, leads generated from your online properties are automatically fed into your CRM, with critical marketing data attached including: lead source, campaign info, keywords used, where the lead came from online, etc. Leads generated through outbound sales can also be entered directly into the CRM for a real-time and holistic view of your business’s sales pipeline. Live dashboards and reports on key performance indictors can be accessed immediately to assist sales management and communication.
The initially gathered data is augmented through your marketing automation platform with each lead’s specific ongoing engagement with your company including: web pages visited over time, emails received, opened and clicked on, articles and other content consumed, conversations and in-person touch points documented on the path of that lead becoming a customer. Post-sale relationship information is also kept including proposals presented, closed or lost – and why. This enables data-driven evaluation of sales initiatives, campaigns and tactics.
Consistent lead ‘scoring’ and tracking can trigger appropriate workflows and responses within your organization. Your sales reps can be alerted immediately of a lead’s sales conversation readiness in their specific area or product of interest. Sales can then intelligently focus on those ‘warmer’ leads, while marketing continues to nurture leads that are in earlier buy cycle stages and separate unqualified and non leads to maintain branding integrity, and save sales reps from activities that waste time and cause frustration.
An integrated lead management system of your website, CRM and marketing automation puts your sales team in position to connect with the right leads at the right time with the right information, thus closing sales faster, more easily and more often.
<< For a snapshot of Bayshore Solutions Web marketing methodology, visit: http://www.bayshoresolutions.com/about-bayshore-solutions/methodology.aspx
Kevin Hourigan is the president and CEO of Bayshore Solutions. Reach him at (877) 535-4578 or http://www.BayshoreSolutions.com.
Do you know who actually buys from you? I’m talking about the socioeconomic makeup of your best customers. Is it women 35 to 45 years old with an income of $60,000 that spend, on average, $200 on every purchase? Is it businesses with 10 employees or less? If you don’t know, it’s high time you found out. After all, you can’t clone your best customers until you know who they are.
Take the following steps to construct a model of your ideal customer:
1. Accumulate all the details of your sales for either the past six months or one year (it’s not necessary to exceed a year).
2. Add up the total gross income (GI) of each sale and divide that number by the total number of sales. This will give you your average ticket price. Example: 200 sales with total GI of $200,000 means your average ticket price is $1,000.
3. Take the top 10 percent of your invoices (based on sale price) and list all attributes you know about them. If you are targeting consumers, this should include gender, age, income, location and whether or not they have kids or own a home. If you are targeting businesses, this should include industry, number of employees, annual revenue and the title of the person at the company who worked with you.
Once you have the model of your ideal customer, you can begin to take steps to acquire more customers that are like them. If you don’t know some of the answers to the above, you can actually buy data and append it to your list.
I have found direct mail to be the most successful lead generation tool for my marketing, especially for acquiring specific customers. The reason is that you can get extremely specific with mailing lists and tailor your mail piece to that specific demographic for a higher response rate.
For example, at PostcardMania we mail to small business owners. We discovered from reviewing our invoices that dentists make up a whopping 20 percent of our revenue, so we pulled out all the data we could about our dental clients and by appending information, found that the bulk of them (not all of them) were the dentists with newer practices. So we targeted those newer practices and saw an increase in calls in, closes, and of course, overall revenue generated from that industry.
Say your target demographic, or ideal customer, is wealthy men in their 50s. You can simply get a mailing list of every man in your area whose age is between 50 and 59 with a household income of $300,000 or more. You could also further specify by home or car value, marital status, number of children and so on.
Not only does this list ensure you reach everyone in your potential ideal market, it also pulls great results. Since you know exactly who it is you are mailing to, you design a postcard (better than letters, no envelope to open) with copy and images sure to get their attention, rather than appealing to everyone. The more you hone in on the “button” that resonates with your audience, the higher your response rate (and conversion rate if your salespeople do their jobs) goes.
This is a simple strategy to target the customers you want to replicate by identifying your ideal customer, getting a mailing list of all the people that fit that model and mailing out marketing material that uses a message especially tailored message to them. For best results, continue to communicate this message over time. It takes an average of seven marketing touches for a prospect to respond to your message. So the more often they see it, the more likely they are to respond.
Joy Gendusa founded PostcardMania in 1998 with a phone, computer and no capital investment. Since then, she has grown the company into one of the nation’s most effective direct mail marketing firms, specializing in postcard marketing for small to large-sized businesses. Over the years, she expanded to offer mailing list acquisition, website development, email marketing ? all while continuing to educate clients with free marketing advice. She has been named Tampa Bay CEO of the Year, Business Woman of the Year in Tampa Bay and has been featured on MSNBC’s “Your Business.” PostcardMania is an Inc. 500 and 5000 company and has won awards for creativity, best business practices and leadership. Learn more at www.postcardmania.com.
Some time ago, I accompanied one of Cincom’s sales reps on a lunch meeting with a customer. When the conversation turned to our products, I smiled as I reminded the sales rep that he should be sure to focus on all of the value that the customer would be receiving.
Surprisingly, the customer laughed and jokingly put up a fight.
“We know all about value selling, that’s the way we sell everything we offer,” he said. “But, when we buy, we want to talk price.”
The conversation continued for some time, focusing on how selling value was an important decision for a business to make. This customer recognized the great advantage of selling value as a feature because doing so helped them be successful at what they do. But, the customer put the mindset in even further relief when he told us, “Losers sell on price. We want to do business with winners.”
Value sellers may not win all the business, but they win all of the nicely profitable business.
Price sellers are bottom fishers. They only catch those that will jump at anything as long as it’s the cheapest option.
Unless a company is extremely large, or has some highly unusual low-cost capability, low-price sellers simply cannot be viable. Their profits, if any, are simply too slim to stay in the game.
Price sellers try to provide as many features, functions, quality and potential benefits as possible, but they also believe that price is considered to be a feature. Because of this, they price their products as low as possible to be advantageous for the customer and for the seller.
Price sellers focus entirely on themselves and their offerings and do not attempt to enter into the value discovery and value delivery process. They leave all of that to a buyer’s discernment and realization and lessen their opportunity to share in the economic value their offerings provide.
In one sense, price sellers underappreciates and undervalues themselves.
That’s why price sellers usually do poorly in the long term while value sellers continue to grow their large profits. The value sellers may not have any better offerings than the price sellers but the value seller gets intimately involved with the potential buyer, and in this way helps the buyer to discover, discern and realize a great deal of additional economic value and utility that might otherwise never be gained or achieved.
When our customer said that he wanted to “talk price” he explained that he didn’t mean he wanted to buy from price sellers. Instead, he meant that he wanted to maximize every possible aspect of the value they would receive from the product.
Value sellers are also better buyers because they are able to recognize the value they will receive from products can far exceed the price they may pay. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t make that buying decision.
Price should never be considered a feature. Low price should not be a favorable feature or an advantage when we try to sell. Instead, we should all commit ourselves to focusing on the value and the very great gains that we can deliver that can dwarf the costs.
Thomas M. Nies is the founder and CEO of Cincom Systems Inc. Since its founding in 1968, Cincom has matured into one of the largest international, independent software companies in the world. Cincom’s client base spans communications, financial services, education, government, manufacturing, retail, healthcare and insurance. http://tomnies.cincom.com/about/
There are better ways to grow sales than to merely throw money at the problem, whether that means more money spent on advertising, a bigger sales force or beefed-up expenditures in other business areas. A close look at your pricing policies, your customer relationships and your sales team’s needs and capabilities can reveal ways to grow revenues even when times are tough.
Look at pricing first
Start with pricing and get over the belief that you can’t raise prices without dampening sales. By keeping prices flat or using price discounts to try to keep demand or close sales, you create two problems. First, you destroy the value of your brand and the integrity of your pricing. Second, you train customers to negotiate harder to get every last penny, which ultimately destroys your customer relationships by undermining customers’ trust in your company.
Instead, look at pricing as a strategic tool that must be managed and based on value, market demand, product lifecycle and cost structure. An important first step is to review your pricing policies with a sharp eye, including looking at any flexibility the sales force has to set price. If your sales team has authority over pricing decisions, put an end to that authority quickly.
After this review, you’ll hopefully feel better prepared to bite the bullet and raise prices — especially if it’s been more than a year since you last took a price increase. After all, your customers are seeing increases at the gas tank and the grocery store almost on a weekly basis. They won’t be overly surprised that you’re raising your prices as well. And customers usually aren’t as price-sensitive as a pure economic analysis would suggest. At the end of the day, your customers expect you to take increases from time to time to cover your own cost increases.
And while you’re focusing on price, review the pricing discounts you offer and evaluate their effect on revenue; modifications may add to your bottom line without driving away customers.
Boost customer focus and service
By letting your customers know about your plans to enhance customer focus at the same time you implement a pricing increase, you’ll dampen any complaints about the price hike. As you consider ways to boost customer focus and service, consider all customer touch points. By scheduling a tour of customers’ facilities, for example, you’ll communicate that you care about your customer’s business as much as your own.
Other ways to enhance customer service include the following:
- Improve product and service delivery processes so it’s easy to do business with you.
- Provide value-added services that are hard for competitors to duplicate.
- Review order fulfillment and delivery statistics and improve the metrics. Even if you’re at 97 percent on time and complete, you’re leaving 3 percent on the table.
- Evaluate customer complaints and identify ways to eliminate concerns and problem areas.
Enhanced customer service will earn your company not just more loyal customers but also a larger customer base as these highly satisfied customers refer contacts to your company.
Challenge your sales team
There’s a lot you can do to strengthen your sales force and increase the business it generates. Start by setting stretch goals. For example, if you normally set 2 to 3 percent as the target for increased sales, up the target to 4 to 5 percent — or whatever figure you have at least a 50 percent chance of meeting. Your people will rise to the occasion.
And don’t underestimate the impact of training on qualifying and closing, time management and sales management. Your sales team will not just appreciate their new skills. The team will become a loyal, well-tuned engine driving your company’s growth.
Tony Arnold is founder and principal of Upfront Management, a St. Louis-based management and executive consulting firm. Utilizing C-suite experience as a CEO and executive experience in early-stage start-up and Fortune 100 companies, he brings unique skills, insights and perspective to enable clients to improve business performance. Arnold can be reached at (314) 825-9525 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inflation is coming. It drives your costs up and results in lower profit margins unless you raise prices. But customers hate price increases and they hate having to pay more.
How can your company increase prices and upset your customers the least? Here are six methods to explore.
1. Cut variable costs.
Is there a way to reduce the costs of your product without significantly affecting your customers’ perception of the product? This is extremely common in the packaged food industry. What used to be 28 ounces of Prego spaghetti sauce is now 26 ounces. A package of Rolos used to have 11 chocolate caramel chews. Now there are 10. What looks like a half-gallon (64 oz.) of Breyer’s ice cream is now 48 ounces. Customers quickly recognize price increases, but they are slower to recognize reductions in product quantity, especially when the size of the packaging remains the same.
Look for something that costs you money that you can de-bundle from the purchase. Customers who want the de-bundled feature will pay extra for it, and it allows you to maintain or lower prices for customers who don’t use the de-bundled feature. At the worst, you’ve only raised prices on some of your customers.
A recent example is how some airlines have de-bundled checked luggage so they now charge customers for checking bags. Although many people saw this as a price increase, it would have been more readily accepted by their customers had they announced they were simultaneously lowering the prices of their flights for people who don’t check bags.
3. Introduce new products.
It’s possible to create a new but similar product with a slightly different feature set. Charge more for the new product and attempt to move as many customers as possible to the new product. Of course, this also means you need to build some added value into the new product.
4. Raise fees.
When gas prices hit $4 per gallon, many companies added a fuel surcharge to their bill. This extra fee isn’t looked at as a price increase, but rather just a way of passing some cost increases through. Now, four years later, some vendors have not removed this fuel surcharge even through fuel prices are back to normal. Many customers do not consider fees when making purchase decisions, so raising fees is preferable to simply raising prices.
5. Raise prices on select segments.
You’ve considered the first four options and they don’t completely solve your pricing issue, so you have to raise prices. Consider only raising prices on select customers. First, look to raise prices on your least preferred customers, those you wouldn’t be too upset to lose. These could be the ones who are expensive to service or are just a pain to deal with. They could also be the ones who negotiated the best deals, so they may not even be profitable after your costs increase. Then look to increase prices on new customers. The advantage here is that new customers don’t recognize price increases. They only see the new price. Do your best to hold prices level for your best existing customers.
6. Raise prices with a purpose.
If you’ve come to the conclusion that you have no choice but to actually increase prices, at least blame inflation. Customers may become very angry if they believe you’re raising prices to increase your profit at their expense; however, they are more accepting if they believe you are simply passing on costs. Apologize to your customers for your price increase, but explain how your costs are going up and that you have no choice. Look and act contrite. Do something nice for them, such as giving them a limited time coupon for a discount to the old price.
Mark Stiving is a pricing expert with a Ph.D. in marketing from U.C. Berkeley and more than 15 years of experience helping companies implement value-based pricing strategies to increase profits. A speaker, coach and consultant, Stiving has worked with esteemed companies such as Cisco, Procter & Gamble, Grimes Aerospace, Rogers Corp., as well as many small businesses and entrepreneurial ventures. Read more from Stiving on his blog at www.PragmaticPricing.com, and learn more at www.markstiving.com.
If you frequently watch the Home Shopping Network, then you probably recognize Tony Little. He’s that energetic fitness guy with a ponytail and baseball cap, standing next to some healthy product, talking to you about changing your life and saying, “You can do it!”
Maybe you were convinced, and maybe not. But for Little, “you can do it” is much more than another sales tagline used to sell exercise equipment. It’s a personal philosophy for success.
“I’ve just always felt that whenever you hit that roadblock, there are a zillion other ways around it,” says Little, founder, president and CEO of St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Health International Corp., which sells Tony Little-branded consumer lifestyle and fitness products. “I think that too many people quit too soon.”
Little’s own roadblocks have included everything from a handful of near fatal car accidents, to going completely broke, to last year, having an employee steal more than $600,000 from his company.
“That was probably one of the toughest areas for me, because I still had to carry on business,” he says. “I still had to make up the money that was gone.”
At the time, Little’s newborn twins, born prematurely, had also been hospitalized for medical reasons. With his children in a life-or-death situation and the business he’d built facing catastrophe, Little says he only got through it by believing in himself.
“You’ve got to come out fighting,” he says.
Today, Little’s twins are doing fine with occupational and physical therapy, and he has already made up much of the lost business. In fact, his company generated $100 million in revenue last year.
By overcoming personal and professional challenges time and again, Tony Little has become one of the most successful television sales people of all time, selling more than $3 billion worth of products to date. Here’s how he builds, grows and preserves his successful brand.
Pick the right opportunities
Little’s incredible sales track record stems first from his ability to identify profitable market and product opportunities that grow his brand.
“I have well over 45 million people that have brought Tony Little products, which I never really thought that would happen in my life,” he says. “I’ve been successful in the fact that the percentage of projects that I do have been winners.”
He says the first step in building a brand is clearly articulating your niche and purpose.
“You identify that there’s problem out there,” Little says. “You identify the fact that you know the solution.”
Growing your brand is then a matter of finding ways for that solution to extend to other products under your brand name. By focusing on the lifestyle market, for example, he has been able to expand his company to sell everything from shoes to food to pillows and even a personal care line.
“My brother calls me a living oxymoron,” Little says. “He says, ‘You started in fitness. You exercise people. You get them all jazzed up about fitness. Now you’re feeding them, putting them to sleep and they’re wearing your shoes the next day.’
“If you’ve been successful with the direction you’re going, then you just need to keep complementing that direction with other extensions.”
When you see an opportunity that fits within your brand’s niche, you want to make sure it’s something that you and your company can grasp and understand before you pursue it.
“The most important thing about selling a brand is not being overly technical with something and bringing it home so that everybody understands it,” Little says.
You have to be able to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. So do your research and make sure that the opportunity is within your knowledge comfort zone. If it is too complex, you may have trouble communicating it to customers or getting enthusiastic about it yourself. Little finds that the best sales results come from choosing opportunities that you can connect to and inspire your passion.
“Everything in your life is selling,” Little says. “It just comes back to the belief factor that you have in what you’re selling.
“I think I motivate a lot of people to feel better, look better, take charge of their lives and do things because I’m such a strong believer in what I do.”
While having enthusiasm alone doesn’t guarantee that every customer will jump on board, when you are selling something that you truly believe is positive versus negative or middle of the road, it’s infinitely easier to transfer that enthusiasm to customers.
“The more ammunition you go into war with, the better off you are,” Little says.
“I still believe that people love to get excited about something. So I have a large excitability about something if I truly believe in it. And it just translates. And that’s why I always say passion sells. Enthusiasm sells.”
Have a winning mindset
From the time he started in the sales world selling his own vitamin regimen, and later, helping grow a chain of pet food stores, Little has seen the power positivity and perseverance has in selling anything.
“No matter how much money you make, no matter what kind of education you have, no matter who you are in this world, you are always excited about someone who shows up in your office who has enthusiasm, passion and confidence,” Little says. “And so many people lack it.
“I’d never done television. I’d never sold pet supplies. I’d never sold vitamins. I never did infomercials. I just had the attitude.”
Little says that he’s no different than any other CEO when it comes to stressing about bills or an order not coming in on time. Yet he’s found that turning around any tough business situation often just starts with having a winning mindset.
“If you look at our economy now and how tough it is and how people get so beaten up and depressed so quickly, I think that it has to do with your mindset,” Little says.
He says that today’s business environment favors those who are prepared to think proactively and take the initiative to find something, figure out something or do something another way.
“If you’re sitting there waiting for people to bring you something, that’s a mistake,” Little says. “If you have an idea, follow it.
“You hear it every day with different people you work with. You ask them to do something, and they ask, ‘How do you do that?’ You just want them to go, ‘I’ll figure it out. Go ahead, Tony. Go away.’”
A winning mindset starts with eliminating attitudes such as fear and negativity that can inhibit your ability to make decisions and chase opportunities.
“The key to a successful company really is the person who is a decision-maker above anything else, because even if they are wrong with their decisions, their opportunities are at bat that much more,” Little says. “They are bound to get a home run.”
But understanding what good ideas and opportunities are out there isn’t enough if you don’t have the attitude to run with them.
“There are so many people that are going to say no, and it becomes a bit of a numbers game,” Little says. “If you take 99 no’s and you get one yes, the yes could make you a fortune or make your whole life.”
When Little first pitched his idea of selling a low-impact exercise video on HSN, the network had never sold an exercise video in its history. But after much persistence, he was able to track down the company’s owner, Bud Paxson, and convince him to try the idea.
“Bud looks at me and says, ‘So you are the guy that calls my company all the time,’” Little says. “I said ‘Yes sir.’ And he said, ‘Well, videos don’t sell.’ I made a bet that my videos would sell if they were presented a certain way.”
In the first airing, Little’s tapes sold out in four minutes. When Paxson called to order 1,000 more of the tapes, those sold out too.
“Certain people will get right up to a goal line and fail, whereas you really need to be the person who is going to bring it over the line,” Little says.
“There are actually a lot more opportunities out there. So many people are not realizing that the person who is going to get the job right now or the person that is going to be able to innovate on a product is someone who has an energy level and enthusiasm and a belief.”
Protect your reputation
Lastly, the strength of your brand is based on more than just your ability to choose the right products or get people to buy them. Because your brand name is synonymous with all aspects of your customer’s experience, everything from manufacturing quality, to shipping time, to how you handle a return affects how your customers feel about you and whether they’ll continue to buy your products.
“You must keep the customer’s experience great and never lose sight that it’s the customer who made you a brand,” Little says.
Once Little did a show to sell a shoe product, but it turned out that some customers who bought the shoes had high insteps so the strap would not fit them. Instead of just accepting that there would be more returns, he called the manufacturer and asked them to create a Velcro extender so that customers could extend the shoes to fit. He shipped the extenders out immediately, and the result was twofold.
“One, it reduces returns and it helps the customer have something that they originally bought,” Little says. “So I was able to make these extenders for the shoes and get them off to the people who had an issue and then they were all happy. Then what was a problem became an asset for my company. I was able figure out that that’s a really good thing to be able to adjust shoes. Now all of my shoes are adjustable.”
Whenever he discovers a customer issue, Little takes swift action to let people know that he cares and is going to make the issue a priority.
“What I do is try to cut the product off immediately, try to revamp everything,” Little says. “Let your consumers know that you understand their concerns and you are working on it. That’s how you preserve your brand.”
If something gets screwed up, he knows that it’s still his name that the customer associates with the problem and subsequently, his brand’s reputation.
“It’s a lot more work for me because people are buying Tony Little in the respect of, ‘I believe that he’s already checked this out,’” Little says.
“If I have a consumer that’s not happy with something, the type of e-mail you’ll get from that consumer is basically, ‘This has to have been somebody else. Tony Little would never let me down like this.’”
That’s why Little uses a range of media channels to connect with customers and talk to them about their feedback.
“The common mistakes are usually in the way people market a product, not understanding their demographics and not understanding the people they are selling to,” Little says.
He still writes in all of his online guest books, answers customer e-mails and always responds to anyone who reaches out to him personally about a product.
Transparency with customers also gives you a more accurate picture of your customer satisfaction, so you can gain insights from the positive feedback as well as the negative.
“The majority of people that send in a review on the Internet on something normally are always going to skew to the negatives,” Little says.
“People we find who love a product or are satisfied with a product aren’t just all of a sudden sending you stuff. They don’t have the same emotion.”
Being responsive, approachable and showing consumers that you’re really thinking about how they use your products builds trust with them as well as with your own business partners. When your brand faces challenges and you need to make up lost ground, having that trust is an invaluable asset.
“Obviously there will be certain times that you just don’t agree…but in the long run no matter how negative a person is or what their experience has been ? as a person who built their business off of their brand – you try to always respect your customer,” Little says. “I don’t think I would be in business if it wasn’t for taking care of my customers.”
How to reach: Health International Corp., (727) 556-2959
1. Build your brand with products you understand and believe in
2. Develop a can-do mindset in decision-making
3. Be accountable for your customer’s experience
The Little File
founder and CEO
Health International Corp.
Born: Fremont, Ohio
What would your friends be surprised to find out about you?
That I’m a very quiet person, and that I love reading books — as many as I can get my hands on.
How do you regroup on a tough day?
I’ll give myself a self-motivational talk and put myself through a challenging workout. It never fails to energize me.
What is your favorite part of your job?
It’s important that I have fun when I work; I don’t like to get too serious. Even when I’m selling or presenting new opportunities, I like to be myself and have a good time. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing for a living, you should find another line of work.
What is your favorite Tony Little product?
The Gazelle. The Gazelle was an exercise machine that has been used in more motion pictures than any other infomercial. I also used it on the Geico commercial, which was fun. It was over a billion in sales for just that one product. It was just fun and the amount of mail, the amount of letters and before and after pictures and stories — even to this day I probably get two or three a week. People just still love the product.
Whom do you admire in the business world?
I have great respect and admiration for people who are self-made. I’ve always looked up to Donald Trump as someone who is willing to speak his mind and create victories from adversity. I would also include Cornelius Vanderbilt. I just finished reading his biography, ‘The First Tycoon,’ and he really was an amazing man. He wasn’t particularly well-educated, but he wound up being one of the wealthiest people in American history. Then there’s Steve Jobs. So much has been said and written about him since his death, but I admired him most for never giving in to a challenge, no matter how tough it got. He never gave up on himself, and that’s a lesson for all of us.
Rick L. Hull liked the world of a small community bank, where he had lots of individual loan authority and was able to interact with clients. The problem was he was the CEO of a large regional bank and just wasn’t happy in what was not a kinder, gentler world.
So he hooked up with a private equity firm and struck a deal to acquire a woe-begotten bank so he could breathe new life into it. And after 18 months, regulators declared the bank safe and sound (although Hull had hoped for about a 12-month time span).
“I really just had to follow my own advice,” says Hull, president and CEO of Premier Bank & Trust, formerly Ohio Legacy Bank. “I had spent my entire career telling everybody who worked for me that life is too short to be unhappy. If you find you wake up in the morning and you really don’t want to go to work, do something different.”
Hull knew change had to start with changing people if the bank were to thrive.
“There was a real stagnancy about the place but there were folks who really wanted to do something,” he says. “I think some of them simply just did not want to get re-energized. So you have to go and take care of that quickly.”
Once Hull excised the deadwood, he knew he had to assure those who were left that stability would return as guided by new management.
“I think you have to be quick to make change; it will resonate with others in the organization ? ‘OK, there was a willingness to make the tough decisions and do those for the benefit of the organization.’”
If you have a basic philosophy such as Hull’s ? life is too short for you to be miserable ? this was the time to explain it.
“I should have written the book, ‘The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t,’” he says. “Robert Sutton wrote it, and it exposits the theory that I have always had ? if someone is making you miserable, you don’t want to be party to that.
“We really invoked that and made some changes quickly. I’m a big believer that you need to make those changes fast. You have to be willing to hemorrhage for a short period of time as opposed to a slow bleed-to-death. You want to get everybody back to that feeling, ‘OK, there is some certainty. I wasn’t one who was released. I am part of this team.’”
Once Hull formed his team, it was time to get out the playbook and make sure everyone was on the same page.
“You need to meet everyone in the organization,” he says. “Take a humanistic type of approach ? you want them to be happy. If they do not think this is the place for them, then please, they should look someplace else.”
An important part of the plan is your expectations for the employees during a specified time frame, for instance, 90 days.
“Track that about every 30 days, giving a kind of periodic update,” Hull says. “Here’s where we are relative to this point ? staffing issues, things relative to systems, processes, procedures, all those types of things.”
If you want your vision to resonate with the staff, even though you come from a larger institution, stress the familial aspects.
“You want to define both internally and externally who you are and what you are looking to do,” he says. “Take the time to make certain there is really a family feel to it.
“If folks respect you as a leader, they’ll certainly do a lot of things for you,” Hull says. “If they really care about you and know that you care about them, I think they really will want to succeed. They have a sense of pride themselves. They also want to make you proud.”
How to reach: Premier Bank & Trust, (330) 499-1900 or www.mypremierbankandtrust.com
Committing to a sales culture
When Rick L. Hull was resuscitating the former Ohio Legacy Bank, he noticed it was missing something quite important.
“This little bank did not have any type of sales culture,” says Hull, president and CEO of the bank now known as Premier Bank & Trust. “They had never made a proactive sales call, ever.”
To develop a sales culture, you have to target with whom you want to do business ? small business owners, doctors, lawyers, accountants ? the ones who may have not been getting great service from one of the bigger players.
Next, your assignment is to institute strict guidelines for the sales department.
“I want you to make three outbound calls per day, and I want to know who you are going to talk to, what you are going to talk to them about,” Hull says. “I’m going to ask for your commitment, then somebody’s actually going to follow up at the end of the day to see if you did that. It’s a responsibility. If I ask you to do something and value your time enough that I’m actually going to follow up with it, you will feel a sense of ownership in it.”
Finally, make certain that everybody commits himself or herself to the process.
“Evoking a sales culture here was really embraced by some; it wasn’t embraced by others,” Hull says. “The ones who didn’t embrace it are no longer here.”
How to reach: Premier Bank & Trust, (330) 499-1900 or www.mypremierbankandtrust.com
Type “customer loyalty” into Google and you’ll get more than 8 million hits. Search for it on Amazon and you’ll find more than 13,000 titles. Selling the concept of customer loyalty is big business in the business world. Call me disloyal, but I say customer loyalty is a myth.
Loyalty is being unswerving in allegiance, unwavering in devotion. The implication in business is that loyal customers should stick with a vendor, no matter what — even when they’re aware of better options.
Is that reasonable to expect, much less realistic? I don’t think so. Instead, it’s better to keep our eyes on the prize: profitable, reliable, repeat business.
It’s imperative to understand that the cornerstone of any successful repeat strategy is memory itself. It starts with your brand promise. You’ve got to offer something worth remembering — something unique that solves a specific problem or meets a particular need a particular way.
Yet being worth remembering isn’t enough. You also need to find a way to make sure that you’ll be remembered. After all, what’s the difference between you and a competitor who has never served your customer before? If your customer doesn’t remember you: nothing. You have to win the person over, all over again.
But if you do have an account in your customer’s memory bank, then you are with that customer all the time. The next time that person is in need of whatever product or service you offer, he or she already knows where to go. The best brands become synonymous with the service or solution they provide — think Kleenex, Xerox and Google. In a world of overwhelming choice, you can be your customer’s default setting.
And that is why memory belongs at the heart of your repeat business endeavors. If you want repeat business, your goal should not just be to make a sale but to make a memory.
But how? Here are four tools you can use to help ensure your product or service gets remembered. I call them the grand SLAM: story, leadership, alliteration and music.
Story: Our minds are hardwired for narrative. Wrap your offering in a story, and it will be easier for your customers to recall. For example, if I say, “turkey sandwich,” do you know what business I’m thinking of? How about if I say, “Jared”? Stories have lasting appeal.
Leadership: Being the original is an aid to recall. As market strategists Al Ries and Jack Trout once wrote, “It’s best to have the best product in your field. But it’s even better to be first.” If you’re offering something specific and unique in your category, then you can make a leadership claim. Authenticity beats imitation every time.
Alliteration: Repeating the sound of an initial consonant makes simple phrases stick. Think “Dunkin’ Donuts.” “I’m cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.” “Every kiss begins with Kay.” Ever wonder why the Geico spokes-creature is a gecko, not a chameleon? Alliteration is pleasing to the ear. It rents room in your customer’s brain.
Music: Catchy tunes get replayed in our heads, helping messages take root. I bet most readers born in the 1960s like me can still sing all the words to the jingle, “My Bologna Has a First Name.” That commercial aired in 1973. Remember anything else from 1973? Set the words to music and help make the memory last.
Most importantly, to win repeat business you first need to deserve it. As Walt Disney once said, “Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.” It’s no accident that Disney and his successors have positioned scores of shutter-snapping photographers around their theme parks. They’re creating enduring, take-home, share-with-friends-and-family souvenirs.
I’ll say it again: if you want repeat business, don’t just make a sale. Make a memory.
Jerry McLaughlin is CEO of Branders.com, the world’s largest and lowest-priced online promotional products company. Reach him at JerryMcLaughlin@branders.com.
A significant amount of John Treace’s career has been focused on returning failing businesses to profitability by retooling their sales and marketing areas. So time and again, he’s come into a company where the sales organization was the needlepoint for other problems.
“Of course, the sales operation of a company really is the heart and soul of the company,” says Treace, who is the founder and CEO of JR Treace & Associates LLC. “The performance of everyone else in the business is weighed and justified on the performance of the sales team. … It all shows up in sales.”
Smart Business spoke with Treace about his book, “Nuts & Bolts of Sales Management: How to Build a High-Velocity Sales Organization,” in which he explains how business leaders can create a high-powered sales organization, starting with the company culture.
Why is culture the first section of the book?
Every company that I’ve ever been in that was failing or stumbling was failing because of top management up at the CEO level and at the VP levels. They fail because they don’t have a culture of success. To create the culture you have to identify your core values.
Core values should be written. They are like the 10 commandments. They are simple. They are action statements. As an example, one of the core values that we used in our business is ‘Don’t run out of cash no matter what.’ It sounds simple, but every company that I’ve ever gone into in my business career had run out of cash.
How can you effectively communicate core values to your team?
When you are presenting them, you have to make an emotional connection with each core value. As an example, the core value ‘Don’t run out of cash no matter what’ — when you tell that to a group of people, it really doesn’t sink in because they can’t imagine their company ever going bankrupt. However, if you ask a question to the audience and you say, ‘Have you ever known somebody who didn’t get a paycheck?’ — You’ll see hands pop up all through the audience. You talk to those people and say, ‘See, those people were working for a company that didn’t have this as a core value.’ Then they can make the emotional connection.
So you create your core values. You publish them. You create the emotional connection with your employees. And from that, you can write your mission statements.
Can you explain the relationship between morale and execution in managing your sales team?
In every failed company I’ve been to, the morale was just terrible, with sniping from the corporate officers at the sales team. One company I went into, and I interviewed the CEO and the CFO to begin with, I asked them what they thought the problem was, and they answered, ‘Well, we have a terrible sales force.’
I’ve never seen a terrible sales force in my entire life. I’ve seen sales forces of low morale and sales forces that were not effectively deployed, but I’ve never seen a terrible sales force. In that situation, with the CEO passing down word throughout the company that the sales force wasn’t very good, it totally demoralized the sales force.
The sales force wants predictability. They want to be able to answer these three questions of corporate management: Do you care about me? Can I trust you? Are you committed to excellence? I actually learned these in a talk with Lou Holtz, the football coach.
So when the corporate officers do things that don’t allow the sales team to answer yes to one of those questions, then it’s going to hurt the morale.
How to reach: JR Treace & Associates LLC, (904) 314-1442 or www.treaceconsulting.com
There’s an old saying that nothing can happen until a sale is made. Certainly sales is not the only area of business that needs to be addressed while working toward building profits, but because of the urgency of today’s economic times, sales are top of mind for CEOs everywhere.
“If you’re trying to make an immediate impact in your company and build momentum toward growth, sales is a perfect place to begin,” says Wes Phillips, Orange Label Art + Advertising.
Smart Business asked Phillips and Rochelle Reiter, agency principals at Orange Label Art + Advertising, to clarify who is responsible for what when a company’s sales are on the line, and how those roles can best prepare their organization for success.
What are the CEO’s responsibilities in regard to sales?
The CEO has a responsibility to 1) drive profit and build value as it relates to the sales function – to ensure the right team is in place and supply support so there can be strong sales at higher margins; 2) ensure that the existing customer base is immune to the activities of competitors; 3) put systems in place for managing ongoing sales to the existing base; and 4) create a selling environment that combats commodity selling.
The first and fourth areas are the places where CEOs can make a difference right now.
How can a CEO evaluate and maximize the sales team’s activities?
The quickest way is to go on a sales call and let the salesperson do all the talking. Listen to what they are saying not only from a content standpoint, but also in terms of delivery. Is he or she confident? How are objections addressed? Spend a full day or week in the field to get a sense of what is going on in the market and what the reps are doing and how it’s resonating, and then go back and retool or refine the script. You may even identify things about the product itself that need improvement.
When you return to the office, consider what is ‘working’ in the field. Define what ‘working’ means, and then create SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) goals with and for the team. Put the goals in place and measure them on an ongoing basis. Even if the salespeople are engaged, there may be a gap between what they are achieving and what the objectives are. So be sure the goals are clear and that you’ve communicated them to the entire team.
How can the CEO ensure that the sales team is equipped with the most effective tools and materials?
The first step is to ask them what they need. It might be more traditional tools such as brochures or one-page fliers. Or it might be digital tools, such as e-newsletters — anything that can promote constant contact with customers and prospects. They might need a better database to draw from and for following up with prospect. Maybe they need to be better backed with a solid brand identity, better sales support, or advertising and marketing.
When asked what they need, salespeople will almost always say ‘lower prices.’ That is to be expected, but it’s rarely the thing to be managed first. Keep the focus on what you can do to keep leads warm and how you can equip the team to make contact last longer.
What is the role of the VP of sales or head of the sales department?
It’s up to the CEO to give accountability standards to the VP of sales, who is then responsible for developing the tactics. This person collaborates with salespeople and monitors their activity; identifies and addresses any performance gaps; ensures that salespeople are matched up with the appropriate accounts; ensures the efficiency of the farming cycle and works to improve it; works to increase the number of leads within the existing budget and the number of conversions; identifies purchase and buying trends in the market; and consistently interviews for new salespeople to ensure that the pipeline of talent is never empty.
The VP of sales is also responsible for training, recognition, and keeping the team motivated and productive. He or she should create an environment that is encouraging and that defines and rewards success.
What is the best way to shift the culture toward cultivating sales or new business?
Share new business with the entire team. Celebrate successes. Recognize areas for improvement. Hold brainstorming sessions across departments and ask for ideas to generate sales. Develop incentive programs — not just for salespeople, but for all employees. Make sure the team is generating new sales from the existing base and that your customers know everything you offer. Look at the systems in place in every department and identify ways to streamline them so they don’t get in the way of making sales.
Make it easy to buy from you. The net result will be happier, more loyal customers and your salespeople will have more time to sell.
WES PHILLIPS and ROCHELLE REITER are the agency principals of Orange Label Art + Advertising. Reach them at (949) 631-9900 or email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
During a one-on-one coaching session, someone asked if I would like to be the first
salesperson in or the last if our organization was bidding on a project or sale.
That’s a difficult question, but a very important one. Obviously, there are advantages and disadvantages to both, and the answer also depends on whether you’re working with an existing client or a new prospect that’s given you the opportunity to win the business.
When you’re trying to close a deal and you’re the first one in, your organization has the opportunity to make a solid impression and convince the prospect that there is no need to look any further. You can try to close the deal on the spot and walk out the door with a signed contract.
Even if that’s not an option, if you’re first you should ask for “last look,” which means you’re requesting the prospect or customer doesn’t make any decisions without giving you the opportunity to revisit the deal you’ve proposed and make one final pitch.
One of the big disadvantages to going first is the prospect may be determined to meet with other companies and use your proposal as leverage, which prevents you from closing.
When you’re the last one in, you’re in a position to leave the last impression and reinforce the fact that they must not have been too impressed with anyone else or they would have bought already. And, I’m never afraid to ask to see the other estimates so the prospect can make a fair comparison.
The disadvantage to going last is that they may have already decided to buy and are just giving you a courtesy appointment so they can claim they’ve reviewed all the options. Unfortunately, in that case, the decision has already been made and you have an uphill battle reversing it to get a fair consideration.
In short, there is no right or wrong answer. With either case, your job is to close the sale. The difference becomes the tactics that you use to get the deal done. When working with your sales team to ensure they meet or exceed your company’s goals, don’t let position become a distraction, deterrent or excuse for your team not getting the job done.
Marvin Montgomery is an author, speaker and sales training consultant at ERC, where he has assisted hundreds of organizations in improving their productivity. You can ask the Sales Doctor a question at SalesDoctor@ercnet.org.
“As a sales rep, you can sort of get into a rut or the same routine and get to your wit’s end, in some cases, in trying to reach people,” says Michael Pace, vice president of Americas direct sales for Infor Global Solutions, a $1.8 billion business software and services provider.
Because of this, Infor is always looking for ways to improve. Enter Vorsight, a Virginia-based company that specializes in sales training and meeting scheduling. Some members of the Vorsight team came in and worked with Infor about utilizing different sales techniques.
Pace says one of the first keys for your sales force to improve their approach is to use Web tools, such as Hoover’s, LinkedIn and the prospective company’s website, to do more research and understand that organization better. It sounds simple, but it goes far.
One of the other keys Infor learned about was learning how to leave better voice mails that would generate interest on the recipient’s end in returning the call. About half the calls Infor’s team makes end up in voicemail, so this is critical.
“When you leave a message, make sure they understand you know who they are and what their business is,” says Tim Young, regional vice president, distribution sales for Infor. “Try to relate something that might be of benefit.”
For example, your salesperson could say something like, “X company is a customer, and they’ve really benefited from our product. I see that you’re similar to X company, so this might also really help your company, and I’d like to set up a meeting to talk about it.” This approach shows a genuine care for the prospective company.
Additionally, Chris Huard, regional vice president, channels distribution sales for Infor, says your sales team has to be very strategic in how they leave their messages.
“Each time you’re leaving it, don’t overload them,” Huard says. “Make it short and sweet. Leave our number once at the beginning, and leave it again at the end. Speak clearly and slowly. Each time we leave a message, leave a piece of value with that customer to make them want to call back.”
Another key is to make sure your team doesn’t stop at just leaving a voice mail. Take it a step further.
“A lot of people leave voice messages, and some people leave e-mails, but statistically, they’ve proven that a combination of e-mail and a voice mail are three times more effective in getting a response,” Young says.
Sometimes it can be difficult to get people who are set on their approach to try new techniques, so part of the training consisted of Vorsight and Infor people making calls right there in the training to put these techniques in action. Huard says seeing the training team making these calls using these techniques and having success — right there in front of everyone was a huge buy-in booster. That buy-in is critical, so showing people how it can help them will help them personalize what it will mean for their success.
“If you have sales people who are motivated by money, and if they use a successful sales technique, they’re going to get more at-bats and be more successful at bat and hopefully hit more homeruns,” Young says.
As a result of the training and trying new sales techniques, Pace sees a clear difference.
“At a high level, we’re much more efficient in reaching the people that we want to reach,” Pace says. … “We’re more efficient at doing that, we’re more creative, and I think our pipelines are more accurate and cleaner because we are able to deal at the executive levels, at the decision-maker levels because we’re having conversations with the team, and the deals we’re working are more real.”
Infor used Virginia-based Vorsight, a meeting scheduling and sales training company, to help it improve its approach to sales. Steve Richard is the co-founder of Vorsight, and he says one of the biggest tools you can have your sales team use is the switch-board operators at the companies you’re calling on.
“Most people approach the switchboard the wrong way,” he says. “When they call the switchboard, they either identify themselves, or they start trying to get transferred through to the right person instead of getting the information from the switchboard first.”
For example, in some cases, you may be trying to reach the CFO, and you may know who the CFO is, but perhaps you don’t know who the CFO’s assistant is or what his or her e-mail address or direct phone number is.
“Getting that simple information first, and then by calling into that direct dial number, you have a much higher probability of getting that person on the phone,” he says.
He says that clients tend to see better results when taking this approach.
“They were finding that the connection rates were much higher, and they were able to engage these people in discussions that were qualified appointments, and, in turn, qualified opportunities,” Richard says.
I don’t profess to be a sales expert, but in working closely with CEOs for the past 20 years, I have in too many times witnessed that no one is managing sales. Every company needs to have someone managing the sales process. It is a process and a numbers game, and we rely on sales for growth. As the CEO, you need to oversee the management of the process to realize the results. It is about holding people accountable, which I know is easier said than done.
Companies I have worked with tend to have a sales force made up of customer relationship management people rather than new business development people. There is nothing wrong with that, but companies need both. It is hard to find salespeople who excel at both new business and current customer relationships as they often require different skill sets, but it is possible to manage your salespeople to do both.
Laying the foundation for new business development
Recognizing that CEOs need help overseeing the sales process, the development of what I label an Accountable New Business Program, accomplishes five important steps for success: First, it identifies for the CEO how much new business activity is needed based on the company’s sales metrics to ensure the company will meet its year-end sales goal. Second, it lays the foundation for a new business development process and implementation milestones. Third, it establishes a target list of prospects to pursue. Fourth, it provides tools like a script, prequalification survey and sample prospecting letters. Fifth, it includes prospect profiles and contact reports so the CEO can verify and manage progress-to-goal and make adjustments as needed. Even armed with this information, most CEOs have a difficult time managing accountability.
Marketing’s role in the sales process
Most CEOs have heard of the sales funnel process that uses Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action (AIDA). Marketing’s job is make the brand known within the marketplace —the awareness quotient of the formula. Research has proven that when brand awareness is high, new customer acquisition is high. Prospects want to associate with top brands in the marketplace. If the brand is not known, a prospect cannot give it purchase consideration.
Marketing can also assist with the second quotient by maintaining and growing interest through frequent and meaningful messages or touches with prospects. This activity can help to build brand recognition and value, increasing brand reputation.
In addition, marketing can equally assist the sales team with the third quotient to transition interest into brand preference. Getting to a position of brand presence takes an understanding of what brand has market dominance and what needs to occur to get the market to take a risk and buy your brand. That leads us to the fourth and final quotient —action. Marketing can help the sales process by presenting the marketplace with offers that elicit action.
Here’s the catch: Marketing works in tandem with new business development efforts. They both need to be performing at a high level. If marketing is doing its job and sales is not making new contacts, thus filling the funnel, whatever marketing is doing will have less success.
Likewise, if sales is doing its job but there is no marketing effort to build awareness and help maintain the sales funnel, whatever sales is doing will have less success. Research has proven that when the two work together, sales success is exponential.
If you struggle to manage and hold your sales team accountable to results, I would recommend you hire someone to help manage this for you. That’s what I am doing.
Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 20-year-old brand development, strategic marketing and digital media firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 25 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921 or email@example.com, or for more information, visit www.greencrest.com.
Someone once said, “If you are wearing out the seat of your pants before you do your shoe soles, you are making too many contacts in the wrong places.”
That tenet rings more true today than ever before. In a world where digital communications have surpassed traditional methods, the reality is that if you’re not using these tools to help your company’s sales efforts, you’re probably getting your clock cleaned by your competitors.
Don’t get me wrong. Using the Internet for research, sending out e-mails to prospects and clients, having your own blog to keep connected or utilizing other electronic marketing methods will still put you in front of new business opportunities for your organization. You can also use mailers or telephone calls to accomplish the same. But nothing beats getting off your you-know-what to meet and greet new prospects. Too many companies’ sales teams have forgotten this basic rule.
Take a quick moment to assess your own organization’s sales team. Does your vice president of sales or your chief development officer buy in to the hype that cold-calling or even networking is old-fashioned? Does he or she believe that selling the digital way has completely replaced face-to-face sales?
In fact, unless your company’s sales are purely inbound, you can’t achieve your company’s complete goals solely by relying on electronic communications alone.
So go back to the basics in order to move into the future. Believe it or not, it’s that straightforward.
Make it mandatory for your sales team members to schedule time to hit the field with a prepared hit list, make the necessary introduction and probe prospects by asking the right questions. By doing so, you’ll quickly find out if there’s a need for your product or service. Better yet, you will be pleasantly surprised of how receptive receptionists and prospects will be to your visit.
Bottom line: Stop letting your salespeople’s fingers do all the walking and have them put their feet back to work. Your company’s sales will thank you for it.
Marvin Montgomery is an author, speaker and sales training consultant at ERC, where he has assisted hundreds of organizations in improving their productivity. You can ask the Sales Doctor a question at SalesDoctor@ercnet.org.
Early in the life of our company, a management consultant sat across a conference table from me and drew an organizational chart with me in the top box. From my vantage point, however, I was at the bottom supporting those above me. It’s a perspective that remains true today. Management should be a two-way street.
At our company, we live by three guiding principles: Do the right thing (which starts with integrity and honesty), friends first and work hard. That philosophy extends from the executive leadership team through every department. Taken together, these principles make up a singular belief: Do right by your clients, create client relationships that transcend the deal and work hard to ensure nothing damages, detracts or deviates from the relationship. The following seven strategies reflect this belief and have helped our business growth from start-up to market leader.
1. It’s not about the sale. Sales are an opportunity. Relationships build bonds for the long term. We hear the line all the time, “What can I do to help your organization?” When was the last time you posed that question to a client or candidate — and really meant it?
2. Hire right, empower your people and invest in tools and relationships. At our company, each employee has the audience to suggest changes and improvements, even during their first week on the job. We’ve invested millions of dollars in cutting-edge technology and tools to better support our people in helping our clients.
3. Know your clients. Demonstrate a sincere interest in their challenges and decision-making process. When appropriate, request a seat at the table where those decisions are made. If you’re confident in your ability and your partnership with your client, tie your compensation to their success.
4. Really know your clients. Forget the fancy restaurants and morning-meeting diners. Visit their locations. See what they do. Even consultants or vendors can perform a little “management by walking around.” Learn their pain points, strengths and weaknesses, and be prepared to offer solutions, even if it’s a suggestion you may not profit from or it’s your product or service. Be comfortable leaving money on the table.
5. When clients are successful, so are we. We constantly invest in and partner with our clients. Last year, we invested in a longstanding client by opening four branches to support its growing business. Those branches are now supporting our clients’ needs, as well as our expansion in those communities. It was a calculated investment that reflected our commitment to mutual growth.
6. Reward, recognize and retain your team. Incentivizing and rewarding employees for individual success is important, but equally important is getting them to buy into the fact their success is tied to teamwork. We put a lot of emphasis on team and make it a point to get together as a group outside of the office regularly so that employees can build internal relationships with each other. As a result, when outsiders first see them, our team looks like a group of friends — because they are.
7. Keep it simple. Don’t overengineer relationships with your clients, and don’t be pushy in proving your love for client candidates. Keeping it honest will keep it real. Candidates and clients like that.
I have always believed that success in sales should not be focused on closing the deal or making quota. It’s about seizing the opportunity to create and build relationships.
It’s not complicated. It’s silly, simple, street-smart stuff that has been proven to work — no matter the perspective from which you’re viewing your business. It’s all about the relationship. Focus on that and the rest will take care of itself.
Jay Cohen is president and CEO of Signature Consultants, a national IT staffing firm based in Fort Lauderdale with offices in Orlando and 14 other locations throughout the country. This year the company was named the No. 1 Best Staffing Firms to Work For in the United States by Staffing Industry Analysts.
Paul Furiga can get the attention of a business-to-business company’s CEO with a pretty alluring deal.
“I can get you to your 100 customers more often, more efficiently and with more fresh dialogue using social media than using any tool you can possibly imagine,” says the president and CEO of WordWrite Communications LLC, a Pittsburgh public relations agency. “How could they say no?”
Surprisingly, they do; the B2B market seems slow to embrace social media. Sure, business is moving online, acquainting corporate America with platforms from Facebook and Twitter to Yelp! and Foursquare. But when the best social media strategies and case studies seem to come from big consumer companies (ahem, Zappos), where do smaller B2B companies look for their social media guideposts?
Of course, some strategies are successful despite your structure, so mimicking some proven approaches from the big boys is a start. But the inherent differences between B2B and business-to-consumer companies necessitate that you tailor your strategy for your customers and goals.
“A $10 million B2C company, the average transaction size might be $100, so they are going to have 10,000 customers,” Furiga says. “The average $10 million B2B company might have 10 to 50 customers who are spending a heck of a lot more money on their average sale. For a B2C company, it’s all about how many followers you have and how much activity you get. For a B2B company, it’s not about quantity; it’s about quality — does your social media directly drive business results?”
Social media equips you with practically free tools to connect with each customer — and when you have 50 customers to their 10,000 consumers, that’s a definite advantage.
“B2B companies should be — and actually are, although you don’t see the trend yet — having much more success in social media,” Furiga says.
And here’s how.
Start with a hypothesis
Your first concern is probably something like, “Are business customers even using social media?”
It’s a valid question, and it’s the launch pad to creating your social media strategy.
“The first step is understanding: Are your customers there? Are they participating in those channels?” says Jennifer Horton, best practice consultant in the customer success and strategy group at Eloqua.
Eloqua, based in Vienna, Va., develops marketing automation and demand generation software to help companies “measure the digital body language of their buyer,” Horton says. The first step in that process is the same as any campaign.
“If you’re just getting started and you’re trying to understand, then let’s pick a hypothesis, i.e., ‘I think our customers are on Facebook,’” Horton says. “Then let’s prove that out or disprove it. We’ll get our Facebook page created, start to develop our fan base and use it to promote thought leadership content or upcoming events.”
To build that hypothesis, some of Eloqua’s clients use website analytics to identify which sources drive traffic to them. If they see significant volume through Facebook — which Eloqua found to be the top-referring social source of website traffic in a study of their entire client base — they dig deeper.
To prove a hypothesis, just like in a science experiment, you need research. Here, that comes from tracking what’s happening. Start with baby steps: Look at quantity before delving into quality.
“One of the places that a lot of people start is just understanding the total number of fans that they have or the total number of followers on a Twitter handle or the number of members that have signed up to receive e-mail updates,” Horton says. “Understanding your reach is definitely first and foremost. It gives you a good understanding of your potential to drive opportunities out of this group of people.”
Maybe people are already buzzing about your company, giving you a head start in building a fan base. But don’t forget about current customers on other platforms. Bring them with you, from newsletter subscriptions, e-mail opt-in lists and direct mail databases to the social space.
Then find ways to inject yourself into conversations, positioning your product or service as the answer to a question.
“Listening would be the first part of that, listening and understanding the topics that are being discussed, who’s participating in those conversations, and then identifying the appropriate response,” Horton says.
If they’re not talking about your specific company yet, back up and see what they’re saying about your industry or service. For example, Horton was on a Salesforce.com user group one morning when someone asked for a recommendation of an e-mail tool. Knowing Eloqua’s software would be a good fit, Horton alerted a sales rep for follow up.
“The companies that are doing (social media) well are … looking at ways of identifying where in the conversation in those social channels it makes sense for them to insert themselves and … providing a relevant and compelling offer to get them to continue the conversation that maybe started in a social community,” she says.
Continuing the conversation
When it comes to executing your social media strategy, forget what you know about marketing.
“For a lot of marketing conversations, there’s only one appropriate answer to the communication — and that is, ‘Buy,’” Furiga says. “The difference with social media is that it’s more about the conversations and the community. That’s why it’s cool for social media managers of consumer companies to just create an environment for people to hang out in. They are trying to keep people in the conversation, knowing that if they stay in the conversation, sooner or later they’ll buy.”
B2B companies, especially, have to strike a balance of building a community and directing it toward a sale. These goals go hand in hand, but different types of content point toward different ends.
Horton can’t jump in trying to sell Eloqua if people aren’t familiar with it. First, she must make Eloqua relevant to the conversation.
“If you think of ‘top of the funnel’ or brand awareness, we create content like infographics that are quick and interesting,” she says. “An infographic on the history of social media is enough to bring you into that Eloqua conversation.
“Now, for us to actually convince you why marketing automation software is a really powerful part of that story, it requires a different set of content: Why marketing automation? Why Eloqua versus our competition? A different type of content is used when the buyer is closer to purchase.”
Furiga goes even further to break down an effective content strategy encompassing industry generalities and company specifics alike. He calls it the rule of thirds.
“There’s a general guideline in social media, and that is: To have success in just about any channel, one-third — and no more than one-third — of your content is promotional,” he says. “One-third is news information (from your industry). Then the last third is the conversation — having a real dialogue with prospects and clients who have chosen to participate in your community.”
Generally, the overall social conversation leans toward sales and marketing. But you can’t just push yourself in front of prospects like an advertisement. Most B2B prospects are looking to social media for a demonstration of your expertise.
“B2B companies most often use social media to give potential customers a peek into what it’s like to work with them,” he says. “What do you know? What do you have to teach me? How can you help me? That’s where the whitepapers and the blogs and the free tools come from. More often than not, B2B companies are selling solutions, and the way you demonstrate your problem-solving capabilities is by having great supporting social media content.”
Educational tools like whitepapers, blogs, webinars and LinkedIn subject matter groups are effective for B2B prospecting. But those can be just as fun and engaging as consumer campaigns focused on games and viral videos.
Just look at Isilon Systems, an enterprise data storage company in Seattle. It brought in a magician to prank the IT department and created a video of him cutting a live Ethernet cord in the data center. Then, the company drove traffic back to their website by revealing there how the magician performed the trick.
“For both B2C and B2B companies, the ultimate goal is to have a continuing conversation,” Furiga says. “The difference is B2C social media can be all about hanging out online playing games, and that would be an OK ROI. For a B2B company, the fun is much more often directly connected to the business purpose. So a B2B social media strategy is going to focus on sharing intellectual capital, engaging prospects and pulling them deeper into a conversation that most often results in big dollar sales.”
Isilon’s videos engaged audiences with a magician’s secrets, but they also pointed to the business by urging viewers to safeguard their IT departments with the company’s solutions.
Content should be fun and creative if you want to grab attention in the fast-paced, sound bite based social environment. But for an offer to have any staying power, the content should also be relevant. You achieve this by taking the position of the problem solver.
“Social magnifies the basic rules of Marketing 101,” Horton says. “The No. 1 ‘do’ is to be helpful. So if someone’s asking a question, provide a relevant answer. Connect them with another person that might be able to answer their question. Social is online, but it’s definitely a human-to-human sort of relationship experience. Building relationships and developing conversations is what really, I think, drives the highest level of engagement in different social channels.”
[See more social media tips from Furiga's presentation, "Beyond Your Zappos Case Study: B2B Social Media for the Rest of Us," featured at the 2011 Public Relations Society of America Digital Impact Conference.]
Focus on conversions
To pinpoint what separates top social performers from the pack, Eloqua recently benchmarked its entire client base.
“Clients that are in the top-performing category are doing a very good job of tracking those things they put out in their social communities so they can understand which social sources are driving interested buyers back to their website,” Horton says.
Still, people have trouble uttering “social media” and “metrics” in the same sentence. How can you turn conversations into measurable conversions? It gets a little “squishy,” to use Furiga’s words.
“ROI in social media is like Jell-O for some people,” he says. “They can pick it up but they can’t really hold it. If that’s happening, then you’re not measuring the right things in your social media.
“It’s not just the number of followers or likes that you have; it’s the quality of the relationships that you create. Each company needs to determine its own metrics to define quality. It’s almost never how many followers you have; it’s almost always about driving toward something that you can count that affects the success of your business — it could be number of sales, number of whitepaper downloads, how many people comment on your Facebook page.”
Sure, you start with basics like number of followers. But now that you’ve given them content as bait, it’s time to find out who’s biting and why.
Start by identifying correlations. As your overall number of social followers increases, look for other trends on the upswing: How many visitors came to your website? How many of them opted in to your e-mail database or registered for your webinar?
“It may not necessarily be cause and effect — if we get 100,000 fans, we’re going to have X amount of leads,” Horton says. “But a lot of companies are starting to see that positive correlation: When we see an increase in the volume and the reach of our social channels, we have a correlating increase in how many Web form submissions we’re getting or how many qualified leads we’re passing over to sales.”
Once you understand general trends and how they’re related, take a closer look at conversions or who took the next step in your sales cycle — whether that’s downloading a whitepaper or contacting a sales rep.
“Of those opportunities where I placed a link back to my website, how many of those people took that next level of action?” she says. “Look at which social sources are driving the highest level of conversion, because that can give you a good indicator of how qualified those audience members are. You can have a very active social group with people that are highly interested but with no intent to purchase. If you can track it down to that point of conversion, you’ll get a better understanding of how close these people are to purchasing.”
For example, Horton helped a client track pay-per-click advertising across several keyword categories by setting up unique landing pages for each. By tracking form submissions, they identified two categories with the highest conversion rates. Then they realized that prospects searching one category converted to qualified sales opportunities within two weeks; the other took two months.
“That helped them inform how they should engage with those buyers,” Horton says. “People that were searching on that term actually had a line item in their budget, so they were a lot closer to purchase. Those were low-hanging fruit.
“The other category was taking a lot longer to convert. That allowed them to say, ‘Maybe we need a nurturing strategy with these individuals. Maybe we need to give them some more content to help them go through that evaluation process.’ Tracking that beyond the point of conversion starts to influence how you can communicate and engage with those buyers, based on where they are in their purchase process.”
Pinpointing buyers’ positions in the sales cycle can tell you when to leverage which social tools to lead them to a decision.
Maybe you’re still wary, convinced that the risks of social media outweigh the benefits. You think your customers aren’t on Twitter or worry that employees will post something inflammatory. Whatever your excuse, Furiga will tell you you’re wrong.
“Companies that don’t participate in the conversation are not stopping the conversation,” he says. “The conversation is out there. All you’re doing by not being part of it is making sure that your viewpoint is not represented. If you’re not part of the conversation, you can’t protect your reputation.
“I’m not going to say that every B2B company needs to be on every social media channel, but you shouldn’t reject it out of hand. You have to know what’s being said about your industry and your company. And if you’re willing to try one social media channel at a time, I believe you’ll be surprised at the success you can have.”
But wait — there's more. Read on for the sidebar section: How B2B customers use social media.
SIDEBAR: How B2B customers use social media
Before you purchase a new cell phone, you probably head online to inform your decision with reviews from fellow consumers. Business buyers are now doing the same; but with purchases of $100,000 instead of $100, the research is more thorough. Everyone involved in committee decisions is digging — many outside the sandbox of traditional information.
“If I work for a B2B industrial company and somebody approaches me about a new way to machine metal, and I try to explain to my boss how cool this is, eh, whatever. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t,” says Paul Furiga, president and CEO of WordWrite Communications LLC. “But if this company has a YouTube channel and they can literally show the difference, and I send my boss and all the other decision-makers the video, wow, is that powerful.”
James Rogers, vice president of marketing at Hoover’s Inc. in Austin, Texas, realized buyers were starting to layer social media with the business data they gathered from Hoover’s Dun & Bradstreet-powered website.
“We had a number of customers that were telling us they go to Hoover’s for the traditional business information like company, industry, people, size of the company, financials, news alerts, all those things,” he says. “Oftentimes, what they would do is alt-tab over to LinkedIn and then … try to identify the contacts and look up some of the information that we traditionally don’t capture within Hoover’s, such as their history and their subject matter expertise and areas of interest.”
After LinkedIn started hearing the same thing from its customers, the two companies entered a partnership in March to integrate their functionalities. Now, below Hoover’s traditional business information, you’ll find social media panes — attributed as such — offering more information on people and companies.
“Whether it’s (preparing for) a sales call, identifying leads, doing industry research, … customers are looking to purpose that information within their daily work streams,” Rogers says. “People want to view the social information in context with the more traditional business information.”
This partnership showcases the trend that, even in strictly business settings, social media is proving to be an important tool in purchasing decisions. In Rogers’ words, it’s gone mainstream.
“A lot of sales professionals are now recognizing that social media is not just about your family community or your personal interests,” he says. “Social media has information that’s relevant to business information, and there is value in correlating the social media content to business information. This social content has different context, so you have to give it the appropriate attribution.”
That context varies by buyer — social content can be more timely and relevant, but it’s also subjective because it’s not validated.
Furiga looks at the broad differences between traditional and social media information:
- Speed: “Thanks to social media, I can get nearly instantaneous information on any person or any company in the world.”
- Scope: “I just said ‘in the world’ — The Internet breaks barriers in terms of geography. In the old days, if I was a B2B company, I could only see as far as my geography would take me — meaning as far as a salesperson was willing to drive or as often as I was willing to go to a trade show. Now, I can literally search the world to make decisions.”
- Transparency: “Most of us use a consumer ratings site to make restaurant or movie decisions. Now, I can get all kinds of great, transparent information about companies I might want to do business with, including testimonials.”
For the past few years, Richard Rubin has done his holiday shopping online. The contents of his virtual shopping carts don’t quite match those of the industrial customers he serves as president of Maxi Container, but he sees his personal habits signaling a bigger change. If he’s buying online, what about his customers?
“I noticed that more and more of our business was moving to the Web,” Rubin says. “More and more of our customers were communicating to us via e-mail. More and more of our customers wanted us to do electronic data interchange or electronic funds transfer.”
This observation came at a crucial time, especially for a Detroit-based distributor like Maxi that traditionally relied on the automotive business. Cold calls from a four-person sales team wouldn’t cut it anymore. Rubin realized that long-term survival depended on the company’s ability to explode its customer base into other industries and geographies. And a web presence was key to doing that.
But making the website an effective sales tool to convert searchers into customers — especially when they’re industrial manufacturers — that’s another challenge. And across the business world, it had resulted in plenty of “websites that were just, for lack of a better word, horrendous,” says Linda Rigano, executive director of strategic services at Thomas Industrial Network, which connects buyers and suppliers of industrial products and services through its sourcing site, ThomasNet.com. “It was just a picture of the facility, a picture of mom and dad, how great we are but not really delivering on what the buyer wants.”
Enter Thomas’ Web Solutions group, which was created to help those companies improve the performance of their websites.
“How do I get my website to sell more for me?” Rigano asks — a question she gets from companies that recognize traditional print resources aren’t holding up. “Always be where your buyer is looking, and then make sure that you’re delivering the answers that they’re looking for.”
Replicating your sales process online
Sounds simple enough. In fact, Rubin can sum it up in three words from high school.
“My 10th grade English teacher always said to me, ‘Know your audience,’ and that’s true in everything,” Rubin says. “You need to know who you’re trying to reach in a Web strategy, and you have to tailor it to get them the information they want.”
Merely by being online, Rubin was tuning into his audience’s requests for digital services. But Maxi’s first website wasn’t tailored at all — in fact, it was basically a print ad with a Web address.
“Before, it was a very static website,” he says. “It listed our name, our address, our e-mail. It listed products we offered. But it was not interactive. You couldn’t click through to get more information. It didn’t send an e-mail. It didn’t do anything. It was just information.”
Maxi was already listed on ThomasNet’s directory, so Rubin sought Web Solutions help to turn referred traffic into sales. First, he had to understand what customers search for online and how.
“Buyers want to be able to answer the same questions that they were once getting on the telephone,” says Rigano, who helps manufacturers and distributors deliver answers by replicating sales processes online.
Her advice: Envision your website as a new sales rep, and equip your virtual salesman by arming it with the right information. ThomasNet uses a VSET strategy as a formula of that information.
First, buyers want to verify that you have what they’re looking for — fast. Thomas’ research reveals that you don’t have much time to make that first impression. Industrial buyers spend 3 to 5 seconds on a homepage verifying you have what they seek before moving on.
“If I’m replicating my sales process at my website, I’ve got to figure out: How are they getting to me? That’s the first step,” Rigano says. “What are the words that they’re typing into a search engine to find me? I’ve got to make sure that that information is in my website; otherwise, I don’t even stand a chance at being found.”
These questions marked a crucial shift in the Web strategy at Keats Manufacturing Co., which also works with ThomasNet. Its first website focused more on the company and its processes than its products.
“Understand what it is that they’re putting into Google. That’s how you’re going to come up higher in their searches,” says Matt Eggemeyer, Keats’ vice president and COO. “I don’t think they’re putting in, ‘small, family-run operation in Chicago.’ They’re looking for a tin-plated 006 automotive terminal.”
Once he understood this, Eggemeyer revamped Keats’ website with less emphasis on company history and management team backgrounds, and more on products like terminals, clips, wire forms and lead frames.
“The way to hook them is to show that you can make the part and make it exactly how they want it,” Eggemeyer says. “You need to stay industry-specific, talk about your products and talk about how you make the products.”
With attention to detail, Eggemeyer launched Keats to the top of search results in several categories on ThomasNet.
“I come up in the top 5, if not No. 1,” he says. “No. 1 translates into over 1,000, sometimes as high as 1,500 unique visitors a month.”
Those numbers dwarf the dozen or so visitors he saw at trade shows — each of which cost more than his entire website.
“Traditional search methods — Yellow Pages, trade shows, all that kind of stuff — is dead and gone,” Eggemeyer says. “This is where you need to be.”
Virtually kicking the tires
The verify step is a broad brushstroke drive traffic. If you want to keep it there and turn it into sales, consider the next two steps in ThomasNet’s VSET strategy: search and evaluate.
“Once you hook them, then they want to kick the tires to get the warm fuzzy and see that this is a company that we want to develop a relationship with,” Eggemeyer says. “All the other superfluous stuff like the history and the management team needs to be on the website but maybe a little deeper. If they really do care, they’ll dig deeper.”
On his website, Eggemeyer went beyond the types of parts that Keats makes.
“We enhanced it one step further by adding the specs that are involved in making those parts: how thick are they, what kind of plating do they get, all the different sizes and dimensions — which make my website that much more attractive, especially when it comes to the search engines,” he says.
What type of information should you provide? Customer service reps are good sources of the knowledge you’ll equip your virtual salesman with because they have vetted the questions over the phone that you’ll face online.
“Let’s anticipate the questions people are going to ask, the information that they’re going to look for, and make sure that your site is armed with this information,” Rigano says. “I would want to have information on my products, on the materials that I use, on the amounts that I could run. How is it being used? Is it a bearing that would go into a wheel, a conveyor belt or a pulley? All of these things are going to be relevant to that market.”
Consider showcasing your offerings with detailed product information in an online catalog, where you can add descriptions, specs and photos. Maxi replaced stock photos and shot its own, with a common background, to create uniformity.
“What we had before was basically just a static one-page website. It didn’t change over time; it didn’t allow you to get more information,” Rubin says. “With Thomas, we created a front end and a catalog that work together seamlessly. We put more information in with secondary and tertiary pages. You start out very generally, and then you drill down to get the specific item you want.”
For Maxi, this was an also opportunity to showcase its core beyond containers — through sustainability. Rubin illustrates this online with videos of involvement in local green fairs and blogs about donating to boost local school recycling efforts.
“Know your core competencies and let the Web strategy complement what you do,” he says. “We’ve tried to graft a new way of communicating this information to customers, both our existing and new, but we’re still keeping our core values as a company in terms of what we do with our products and how we conduct our business. … You can’t lose sight of who and what you offer.”
Tracking online action
You’re drawing visitors to your website and providing answers to their questions in hopes that you’ll convince them to take the next step — the T in VSET, take action. But it doesn’t necessarily mean making a sale.
For Keats, it means a request for a quotation. Whatever your next step, provide tools for visitors to make the next move — like functions for contacting you, uploading CAD drawings or ordering online.
Those tools can get highly technical, but Rubin thinks they beckon offline tradition — and that’s the secret to converting traffic. In his strategy, the website doesn’t replace the sales cycle, but assists it.
“That’s where the old-fashioned stuff comes in,” he says. “The website has to be interactive. It has to have the ability to send e-mails. It has to have the ability to send RFQs. It has to have the ability to click a button and contact us. We wanted the website to give information, but then also have the ability to send a request for more information.”
Keep in mind, as your online strategy mimics your traditional sales cycle, it should closely reflect your overall business goals, as well.
“If a company sets up a website without going through the process of saying, ‘What are my business objectives, and how is my website going to support me in doing this?’ they will have missed the boat,” Rigano says. “My objective is not to make a killer website; my objective is to generate 5 percent more business in Korea and India this year. My objective is to increase my product sales. Then, you have to say, ‘How can my website help me do that?’”
Develop these goals at the onset of Web development so you can chart your online course and track progress along the way.
“You always want to build in: How do I know what success looks like? We don’t build a website without putting a tracking system in place so that you know how to evaluate what’s happening,” says Rigano, who recommends evaluating your tracking at least monthly. “Take all the key actions that you want somebody to do at your website — we call those conversion actions — and build in tracking so that you can look at those. You can look at how many people came into my site, how many people went past the homepage and searched for something, how many people clicked on ‘Download a CAD drawing,’ how many people clicked on e-commerce, how many people clicked on RFQ.”
But measuring results goes beyond in-page analytics. ThomasNet’s research shows that half of the time, online buyers still pick up the phone and call for more information, so make sure you include those callers in your tracking. Maxi has different 800 numbers for different ads on and offline, so Rubin can tell which ad drove the call by which number rings.
“If you don’t have a separate 800 number for your website, call your phone company tomorrow and get one installed,” Rigano says. “Then you know how many people are coming directly from your website. That’s the beauty of being online: The end measure is so definitive. It’s not like, ‘Gee, I had 10 percent impressions.’ It’s how many came in and how many bought. You know what success looks like.”
Evolving to maximize ROI
The road to a solid Web strategy doesn’t end when a searcher becomes a customer. Now, you tweak based on the actions you’re tracking.
“With all those quotes we get, we just need to pay attention to: What’s the latest and greatest?” Eggemeyer says. “We seem to be getting an awful lot of requests for the widget so we need to make sure that on our website we talk about how we make widgets.”
Companies won’t survive without adjusting to changing customer needs; so must websites also stay current. Analytics make online success and failure obvious, so they can help you optimize your strategy.
“You want to get your return on your investment,” Rubin says. “You want to look at what your cost-per-click comes out to be, and then you jettison those programs that don’t work and you invest more in those that do.”
As you think ahead to adding new digital components like social media, e-mail newsletters and blogs — which Rubin only added, one at a time, after the website was up and running — keep the overall strategy cohesive.
“It all has to work together and provide seamless integration across different platforms,” he says. “We also have a small pay-per-click program with Google and we’re working with Google Maps, but they all lead back to our website. It all has to reinforce each other. It all has to be consistent.”
You’re probably wondering when you’ll see these pieces come together into a return on investment. Eggemeyer saw his ROI pretty quickly after Keats’ site went live in April 2009. A former customer that had lost touch with its one-time supplier reunited when discovering online that Keats still had tools to make a certain part. One quick order paid off the new website.
The home run, though, if you ask Eggemeyer, was the phone call from a military contractor in Alabama, who had seen Keats’ site. The call led to a million-dollar order to develop a metal clip for a plastic bullet.
“Would have I been able to get that customer back with the traditional sales methods?” Eggemeyer asks. “No, because they wanted to see that I could do the zinc plating and that I could hold certain tolerances. And that isn’t on a brochure I’ve ever done, and they probably wouldn’t be asking that of me at tradeshow — and I don’t know if I could have given them that attention to sit down and talk engineer to engineer. But that stuff was on my website, and that gave them the warm fuzzy that Keats can do it.”
All in all, Keats’ sales are up 30 percent since the launch, and the number of quotes more than doubled from 600 to 1,400 in one year. Maxi similarly grew sales by 37 percent while setting four consecutive months of records, bringing in customers from new industries and locations. In fact, Rubin faces a wonderful problem because of the growth.
“The next step is moving to a bigger building,” he says. “We’re actually at full capacity in terms of the throughput in our warehouse. We’ve been so successful with this strategy that it’s difficult for us to add new customers.”
Rigano hears similar stories frequently, another sign that effectively leveraging your website as a sales tool is a crucial ingredient of growth.
“We’re asking people, ‘How did you (grow)?’” Rigano says. “The majority have said, ‘The strategies for success were developing business in new geographies, developing new innovative products and services, pursuing business in new industries, increasing online marketing. That’s how they’re continuing to grow, and that’s all through web strategies.”
How to reach: Thomas Industrial Network, (866) 585-1191 or www.thomasnet.com
How to reach: Keats Manufacturing Co., (800) 532-8763 or www.keatsmfg.com
How to reach: Maxi Container, (800) 727-6294 or www.maxicontainer.com
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Marketing executives are stretching their dollars in new and creative ways, from utilizing social media to investing time and resources in the latest technology. Budgets are being reassessed for effectiveness and impact. Never before has ROI been so top-of-mind. That is why hyper-local marketing makes perfect sense for today’s businesses that are looking for ways to more directly impact customers.
Hyper-local marketing has been around for a long time — and though there are new ways of activating it, the concept remains the same: Focus on a well-defined, community-related area, concentrate on the concerns of the residents, and highlight the businesses in a limited radius. Small is better — you can tailor your message and achieve far better results than making a generic pitch to anyone who might hear, read or see it. Here’s why it works.
First and foremost, the national or regional approach no longer provides the proverbial bang for the buck. In today’s fickle marketplace, these methods are considered too widespread and, thus, become a “throw it against the wall to see if something sticks” game. How do you solve this? Narrow the focus, find the end user that will find your information valuable, and go there.
Targeted marketing is the precursor to establishing personal relationships. When working in such a limited geographical location, the consumer response will likely develop into real business relationships. In a small town, people know each other and are happy to do business with someone they know. That same theory holds true in a larger city, when the hyper-local element pares it down to manageable units.
Additionally, convenience is a huge factor in decision-making. Marketers are well-advised to access the dedication that Americans have to convenience. We may criticize the younger generation’s lack of knowledge of geography — and laugh at its inability to find Kuwait on a map — but today’s youth know where the local Aeropostale store is. In fact, all generations have a keen sense of their own neighborhood. From the bank and the florist to the doctor and accountant, community geography becomes second nature. This is why hyper-local marketing is effective — it is tapping into a knowledge base that virtually everyone has.
The Internet has tried to convince us that we are a global economy, and in many ways, this is true. But food shopping, going to the dentist, buying a birthday cake and meeting for coffee are still major parts of family life. Those activities rely on proximity, and proximity is the essence of hyper-local marketing. More than 80 percent of business transactions occur within a 15-mile radius of the consumer. This statistic lends tremendous credibility to the benefits of hyper-local marketing.
The key to hyper-local marketing is identifying the segment you want to approach. Once identified, create a message that is meaningful to the largest sector within this segment. There will be one group that stands out — whether it is an age group, such as a senior citizens community, an ethnic or religious base, or even a group with a common occupation (think Silicon Valley).
As an added benefit, hyper-local marketing begets word-of-mouth. People often recommend a vendor, business owner, shop, artisan or professional to someone in their neighborhood. Simple proximity indicates a number of factors — convenience to the center of town, the same weather, similar school systems and so on. If an individual had a good experience, he or she is likely to share the information with someone else who may benefit from that experience and want to duplicate it.
Like any message or marketing strategy, nothing works perfectly without perseverance. However, hyper-local marketing does work if you deliver the message, and stick with it. Though by its very nature it proves a more limited audience, it also offers unlimited potential.
Steve Goodman is the president and COO of Welcome Wagon International. The company utilizes the strategic benefits of hyper-local marketing in more than 1,600 markets across the nation. Reach him at (800) 779-3526 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you still waiting for business to fall in your lap? If so, good luck. The day of the order taker is over. It is up to you to make it happen.
Unfortunately, salespeople feel that the company is obligated to provide them with prospects or, at the very least, a list to call from. There are several things that you can do immediately to generate new prospects with little to no effort or cost.
- Make one customer service call a day to an existing customer to make sure you are meeting his or her expectations. You have now created an opportunity for additional work or to ask for a referral.
- Network strategically. Don’t waste time in areas that are not providing you with a return on your investment.
- Fish where the fish are. Make sure that you are spending time with prospects that have a high potential of doing business with you.
- Consistently ask for referrals of new customers or even from prospects who don’t buy from you.
- Last but not least, don’t be a secret agent for your company. Some of my best clients were acquired during nonwork hours. Make it a focus for 2011 not to wait for your ship to come in — swim out to it.
Marvin Montgomery is an author, speaker and sales training consultant at ERC, where he has assisted hundreds of organizations in improving their productivity. You can ask the Sales Doctor a question at SalesDoctor@ercnet.org.
Storytellers create interest in their tales by showing the opportunities and desires of characters set against the conflicts and challenges that confront them. Throughout the course of the story, a character grows to resolve these challenges.
Storytellers and story-selling
The same can be said of the stories of selling value in complex sales cycles.
Jane Austen famously used the phrase “sense and sensibility” to refer to human motivations and behaviors in her novel of the same name. Senses and sensibilities identify and provide information and discernment to people. They shape and form character and predispositions, which are impossible to fully describe.
However, insightful authors, such as Austen, have managed to show how the various human sense and sensibilities influence one’s life and behaviors in unimaginable ways.
Seller sensibilities don’t sell
To effectively sell value, the seller must understand the buyer’s senses. The seller must understand what it is that each person involved in a buying choice explicitly seeks.
To do this, the seller must view things from the personal perspective of the prospective customer. This means that the focus should be on buying motives and preferences, instead of selling.
And yet, most businesses and many sales reps forget that the customer wants to buy — not be sold.
The buyers’ perspective
These differences in perspectives cause difficulties for marketing and selling and some of the largest frustrations for buyers. To allay some of these frustrations, the seller must remember that buying and selling are one process, separated only by a difference in perspective.
Sellers tend to sell features and benefits, but buyers want to buy value. However, their idea of value does not necessarily mean a return on investment.
Value sells emotionally
It is said that value lies in emotions, not economics. Sellers must objectively determine and communicate the economic value being offered, but the subjective motivating reasons for a choice are often found in the emotional or personal benefits to be gained.
These advantages should be called values instead of value.
Values differ from person to person, time to time and situation to situation. That’s why so much of successful selling involves empathetically oriented personal interactions.
These values can be broken down into a more focused list of three behaviors and motivations: a craving for a sense of personal importance, a fear or dread of loss, or a desire for minimal effort or investment for maximum gain or success.
It is important to note that these three sensibilities are not the most attractive in human interactions. However, the objective is to be realistic without becoming cynical. Those engaged directly in selling processes may agree that these motivations often trigger behaviors that are not pleasant in normal human interactions but are typically prominent in buying and selling situations.
These primary motivational influences are like the three primary colors — red, yellow and blue. Just like red and yellow can be combined to get orange and blue and yellow make green, the influences can be combined in different degrees to create a virtually infinite palette of behaviors and motivations.
The combination of these most often encountered in sales and buying situations might best be summed up by the human behavioral principle taught by author Robert McKee: “With very few exceptions, humans seek to realize the maximum gain, or satisfaction, with a minimum of risk and investments of time, effort and energy.”
This means that on the first try, a person will do the minimum necessary to try to achieve a desired goal. This minimal effort hardly ever achieves a goal to its fullest extent, so the person will choose to give up or invest more time, effort, energy and risk in the project.
This cycle repeats itself until the goal is achieved.
Thomas M. Nies is the founder and CEO of Cincom Systems Inc. Since its founding in 1968, Cincom has matured into one of the largest international, independent software companies in the world. Cincom’s client base spans communications, financial services, education, government, manufacturing, retail, health care and insurance. For more information, visit http://tomnies.cincom.com/about/.
The sales landscape is changing. To succeed, businesses need to focus on three key drivers of profitable growth — customers, pricing and innovation.
“If you think about those three things, sales is the critical nexus through which they all flow,” says Jim Lane, director of RedBank Advisors at GBQ Partners LLC. “You can’t get a decent price if your sales people cave when they’re pressured. You can’t hear about innovative demands and needs from your customers if your sales people are not listening carefully. You can’t establish customer satisfaction with a sales force that is setting expectations that you cannot meet. Sales is a critical enabler of all three drivers of profitable growth.”
Smart Business spoke with Lane about how to understand the changing sales atmosphere and make sure your sales force can accommodate the changes.
How has the sales environment changed?
If you rewind a little bit, a lot of businesses thought their sales guys were absolutely amazing in the 1990s, and many of those sales people are still in place. Early in this decade, business leaders looked at sales people a more little critically, but then the sales group seemed to recover and hit their feet again. That all changed with this last downturn, and now no one seems to know how to sell.
Have the sales people really been getting better and worse? No, but what’s been happening is that our feelings about sales people track with the economy. So in the mid to late 1990s, the economy was raging along, and all you had to do was show up with a sales book to get an order. In the early 2000s, there was a bit of a downturn, so we looked at sales people with a bit of a critical eye. But we recovered and started to make progress again, so business leaders thought that sales people knew what they were doing. But it wasn’t until this latest downturn when we figured out that they really don’t know it all, and in many cases, are not suited for sales or don’t have the knowledge or skills to be effective at sales. As a result, we’ve seen a bunch of sales managers and sales people who’ve been exposed as not good at what they’re doing.
What are some key things business leaders need to understand about the changing atmosphere of sales and growth?
The key difficulty that business owners have when looking at their sales force and growth curve is that, once they know what their own desires and goals are for growth, they don’t separate out what they’re accomplishing versus what’s being accomplished because of the business environment. In the 1990s, we all thought we were geniuses. But over the last 18 to 24 months, we all thought we were idiots. Have we really changed, or is it just the performance of the economy that’s driving the change in the business? You have to separate out what you can control versus what the economy controls. That will help you determine the difference between an opportunity to improve and factors beyond your control.
How do you work with your sales force to accommodate this change?
The first aspect is getting the right people in place with the right psychological makeup. The second part is making sure that they have the skills and training that they need.
That first part is really a price of entry, it’s really a go or no go. There are a couple of key characteristics of a good sales person’s psyche, which deal with a willingness and commitment to do whatever it takes to make oneself successful. The other one is fortitude and the ability to hear no, keep on going and keep your drive up. If someone is lacking in those two elements, it’s probably not a good idea for that person to remain in sales for a career. You have to evaluate each sales person with a rigorous assessment tool so you can determine his or her potential. Then you can track progress against their potential each year as you go along.
Then you can train your sales force on a whole series of different skills. You can definitely impact these and improve performance through some of these skills in a way that has a return associated with it. When you first look at your sales force, you need to determine if you receive a continued return on investment. You might as well just trade them out or eliminate those positions if you do not. If you have a group of sales people who have those core psyche elements, then you can determine what the return on investment will be for that group. That’s where you see an opportunity to continue to invest in and improve the performance of the existing sales group.
Once you’ve been through this analysis, and you know how to invest in your current talent pool, then you can look at the gaps. You look at what types of sales people that you do have, and what types of sales people that you need to drive growth.
What are the benefits and risks of focusing on the key drivers of profitable growth?
Business leadership is a balance of looking at drivers of growth and profitability and looking at efficiency, which is more cost focused. Drivers of growth tend to be revenue and top line oriented. Drivers of efficiency tend to be cost and bottom line oriented. As with anything, if you focus too much on the left hand, you forget what the right hand is doing. You need to keep a balanced outlook.
If you do focus on profitable growth, the key benefit is that you become a much stronger organization. Companies that did well over the last 18 to 24 months were ones that had already taken up the challenge of being profitable. They came into the downturn with the cash to take advantage of buying opportunities and were able to invest in new capabilities and talent at a time when they were relative bargains.
Being more profitable makes you a much stronger firm. When another company is trimming to survive, you can attack their customer base and introduce new products. That financial strength enables you to do a lot of things when there are competitive opportunities to move.
Jim Lane is the director of RedBank Advisors at GBQ Partners LLC. Reach him at (614) 947-5257 or email@example.com.
Maybe Regis Philbin wouldn’t convert your prospects to customers by confirming their final answers. But Amanda Lannert thinks your business could benefit by borrowing some philosophies from interactive games.
Lannert is president at The Jellyvision Lab Inc. — a sibling company to Jellyvision Games, known for its best-selling games “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” and “You Don’t Know Jack.” She’s taking interactive conversations beyond gaming to help companies better communicate with customers, replacing virtual game show hosts with virtual insurance agents, enterprise IT salespeople and even guidance counselors.
“Find ways to ask questions to let people self-select into the information they want, versus just piling a bunch of information on your website and making people have to do the legwork of understanding it all so that they can then match the product to their needs,” says Lannert, who has about 50 employees. “Try to help people narrow down to the information they need at a level in which they can understand.”
Smart Business spoke with Lannert about turning prospects into customers with interactive conversation.
Be respectfully relevant. The best salespeople that we see in all industries ask questions first. They make it about you, the buyer, not about the product first. The salesperson doesn’t come up [in a store] and say, ‘Oh, the texture of the chiffon is so lovely.’ They say, ‘Where are you going to wear the dress?’ and then they put the product into the context of what the user cares about versus just blathering on about the product. They’re engaging and not pushy.
We’ll ask stuff like, ‘What keeps you up at night? What problems are you interested in solving?’ and we’ll lay out four or so options on the screen. … People click and then you can focus on that and know that you’re dealing with their top issue.
Be relevant and respectful of your audience and their time. … It’s about having an editorial perspective that allows you to know what you’re talking about but not speak in a way that’s mired in industry lingo or corporate gobbledygook. Being clear, being conversational is respectful to your audience.
Just remember, people read and think and process best in conversational English versus jargon or lingo or corporate-speak. Try to read your copy out loud. If it’s not what you would say to a human being, rewrite it. Call your husband or your wife or your mother and read it to them, and just have them raise their hand when they start to get a little tricky.
Take it slow. Interactive conversations are a touch-point in a very long and complex sales cycle. Our philosophy is that, for complex sales and transactions, you need to take a long-term dating focus. You don’t want to move too quickly on the first date.
You need to set up a strategy of providing valuable advice and service over time, sometimes when it has nothing to do with actually selling your product. Sometimes, it just has to do with proving that you’re a credible, reliable, helpful person. That will pay dividends.
The best way we’ve found to build and maintain relationships is patience. … You accrue brand equity the same way you build interest in dating: You build intrigue by being patient.
Our goal is usually to get people to move from being a website researcher to being an active lead on the phone with a representative who can configure a solution. So we say, ‘All right, would you like to speak with a rep?’ Can we capture a lead right away? They say, ‘Oh, I’m not ready to be sold to.’ ‘Well, that’s OK. Can we send you a white paper on blank that you already told me that you’re interested in?’
Provide options. Instead of, ‘Can I close? Yes or no,’ it’s, ‘Would you like to close? Would you like to learn more?’
You can set up stuff in marketing automation. … And then two weeks later, you have an automatic e-mail that says, ‘Hey, there’s a new webinar.’ Two weeks later, ‘Here’s an interesting article I read that might be germane to your business about how this solution has helped other companies.’
You continue to provide resources and advice that has nothing to do with (selling) that allows people to get more comfortable with your solution over time. A white paper may not actually advance your sale, but it builds your credibility so that when someone actually is ready to move toward your solution, they’re more likely to remember you, more likely to give you a call.
Match needs to inventory. The great thing about the Web is you are not limited by physical space in terms of the amount of inventory you can cover. And the bad thing about the Web is that you’re not limited by physical space (for) the inventory you can cover.
That’s why consumer decision support tools are so important, particularly when you’re selling something complex. You don’t want to force your prospect to have to become a category expert. You just want them to have to understand their business, their pain and their situation and then you want to say, ‘I get the products. I understand the background of everything we offer. Based on what you said, I’m going to recommend this, and I’m going to tell you why based on what I’ve learned about you.’ So you take the onus of expertise off of the prospect who’s doing research and all they have to know is what they know already: their own situation.
People so often forget the ‘and why.’ … That’s how you build confidence in the sale. When (other interactive decision support tools) get to the recommendation, they drop people off at a page because to present produced recommendations for your entire inventory could bankrupt the company. Well, don’t produce the whole inventory. Narrow the coverage you need to provide and invest in a recommendation. Invest in saying, ‘Hey, customer, I hear you. I know what you’re looking for, and based on what you told me, this is what I recommend and here’s why.’
How to reach: The Jellyvision Lab Inc., (888) 387-4446 or www.jellyvisionlab.com
One of the strongest ingrained behaviors is asking for permission. Remember growing up and our parents would constantly remind us that it’s OK as long as you ask first. We were being taught to be polite.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we should not be polite. I am saying that there are times when we should refrain from saying, “Would you like to?” or “Do you want to?” or “Is it OK?” When you put yourself in position to ask for permission, you then have to sit back and wait for a yes or no.
Instead, be proactive and take control of the sales pitch. Use words like “let’s” or “when” to begin your request.
“Let’s schedule a time to meet.” “When is a convenient time for us to meet?” Instead of “Would you like to?” or “Do you want to?” or “Is it OK if I?”
It’s OK to be more assumptive in your closing approach, especially when the prospect has a true need for your product or service. Besides, that approach also works on the personal side, too.
“Would you like to go out?” “Let’s go out tonight.” “I will pick you up at 7 p.m.”
You’d be amazed at how much better this approach will be.