When I meet with business-to-business and professional service clients to discuss their marketing strategies, one comment that consistently arises is “No one buys professional services through the Web.”
While that may be true — you don’t typically buy an accountant online as you would a product through e-commerce — how your brand is perceived most definitely will impact a prospect’s buying decision.
Decisions to work with professional service firms don’t happen overnight. They take time. And because of this, any B2B organization must ensure it is “seen” in the strongest possible light before the sale actually occurs.
In fact, it’s just as important to not lose prospective customers because your organization is perceived as weak or subpar as it is to convert a prospect into a client.
The simple truth is that you never know at any given time who is researching your brand and through what channel. Having a consistent brand message, whether they’re looking to engage you now or somewhere down the road, helps you to not lose them before they need your solutions.
To accomplish this, you must get your brand messaging across in a consistent manner across multiple channels.
So how do you that?
First, a solid marketing strategy must include a website that clearly articulates the brand message and value proposition of your services — and it has to be on the home page.
It also should include supporting content that allows a prospective customer to quickly understand who you are, what you do and why you’re different.
For example, let’s say you’re an accounting firm. Being able to articulate why you are the best at providing risk management solutions for clients can help you differentiate yourself in the marketplace.
Providing and highlighting content that explains your service, along with case studies and client examples that include measurable results, is a smart move. It allows prospects and site visitors to get a feel of what it would be like to work with you.
Additionally, your website should offer prospective clients an easy way to contact you — either through a phone number or a simple contact form that includes a name, email address, phone number and short explanation of the prospect’s business problem.
Beyond your website, other channels to consider include social media, which includes LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. In these social media channels, you need more than just simple company pages. Instead, you should offer visitors relevant and current content that consistently supports the brand message and your organization’s value proposition, along with company information and executive profiles. And it’s extremely important to continually be “active.”
Using the same accounting firm as an example, it could utilize consistent content around recent changes to government policies, updates on recent business wins or sharing a solution that helped one of its clients overcome a business challenge across all social media channels.
And when that information isn’t timely, something as simple as new hire announcements or employee promotions will show visitors and followers that there is activity within your brand — and your organization. It makes you “active,” which makes you more attractive to prospects.
Other channels to think about include mobile or tablet experiences, print marketing and event sponsorship. Every channel you can imagine should be used to express your organization’s brand message because there are always people watching.
So while your clients may not choose or buy their professional services online, they will evaluate your brand even prior to consideration. And while it’s impossible to measure what clients you may lose by not having this strategy in place, it is clear that a solid marketing strategy of this type can save you from losing consideration — even when you don’t know you’re being considered.
David Fazekas is vice president of digital marketing for Smart Business Network. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7056.
According to The Business Dictionary, attitude is: “A predisposition or a tendency to respond positively or negatively towards a certain idea, object, person, or situation. Attitude influences an individual's choice of action, and responses to challenges, incentives, and rewards (together called stimuli).”
The words that jump out as important in this definition are:
- Positively or negatively
In light of this, we can say that when we respond to things with a positive attitude, that response influences positive action in us and others. We can also say that the opposite is true.
We could end this article right now by simply saying – As a leader, manager or executive in business; do the former and not the latter. But if you are like me, I bet that you could use some “how to” examples and tips.
Here they are, six tips for having a positive attitude in business:
1. Keep an open mind. Always be open to the possibility that a life change you have refused to consider might be the key to transforming your life for the better.
This type of attitude impresses your colleagues. Why? Because most of them have been faced with the same challenge and chose to not change. Their attitude towards the change has been clouded with self-doubt and lack of courage.
When you are willing to keep an open mind, you are responding positively to the challenge of a life change that has the possibility of a great reward.
Be different than those around you. Be open.
2. Be proactive, not reactive. A reactive individual is at the mercy of change. A proactive individual sees change as a part of the process and takes action to make the best of it.
Having a proactive attitude requires work. You must be able to think ahead and anticipate. It involves being involved.
In business (and life) you cannot simply sit back and let things just happen as they will. In truth, you could, but that attitude is a negative response that influences negative action, namely, reaction.
Do a little mental work beforehand. Get in the game and be proactive.
3. Go with the flow. Present an easy, casual and friendly attitude that shows your flexibility, yet at the same time portrays your persistence in the face of obstacles and adversity.
This is not the negative “sit back and let things happen” attitude described above. Persistence in the face of obstacles and adversity is what sets it apart.
Having an attitude that is easy and casual, without stepping outside the bounds of proper etiquette and being friendly, is some of the best advice I can give to leaders in business.
Be persistent while going with the flow.
4. Think big. If you think small, you will achieve something small. If you think big, then you are more likely to achieve a goal that is beyond your wildest dreams.
When we allow ourselves to have an attitude that pushes boundaries and explores possibilities, we draw in people who have the same attitude. In other words, by thinking big we find big thinkers.
Want to have a team full of big thinkers? Want to have meetings where ideas are shared and positive plans are made? Want to grow leaders out of your team and promote them to new heights in their career? It all starts with your big-thinking, boundary-pushing, dream-inspiring attitude.
Go ahead – think big.
5. Be persuasive, not manipulative. Use your persuasive talents to persuade others of your worth. Don’t use it to convince someone that others are worth less than you.
Have you ever had a manipulative boss? Have you ever had a persuasive boss?
6. Enter action with boldness. When you do something, do it boldly and with confidence so that you make your mark. Wimping out is more likely to leave you stuck in the same old pattern and immune to positive change.
In the end it’s all about getting things done – with a positive attitude. As leaders, we need to be able to move and work with a certain sense of boldness. A boldness that inspires us and those around us to reach for new horizons in all we do.
It’s obvious, action is better than no action – but bold action that leaves a mark is what we should be doing in our life and business.
Do something and do it with a bold attitude.
Attitude really is everything in business. It is the force that empowers us to respond positively to the challenges we face on a daily basis. It allows us to enjoy what we do as we do it. It builds us and our teams.
DeLores Pressley, motivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She helps individuals utilize personal power, increase confidence and live a life of significance. Her story has been touted in The Washington Post, Black Enterprise, First for Women, Essence, New York Daily News, Ebony and Marie Claire. She is a frequent media guest and has been interviewed on every major network – ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX – including America’s top rated shows OPRAH and Entertainment Tonight.
She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” To book her as a speaker or coach, contact her office at 330.649.9809 or via email email@example.com or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.
Should hard-nosed, thick-skinned, ice-water-running-through-their-veins executives who live and die by facts and profit and loss statements believe in things they can’t totally understand and certainly can’t explain?
We have all been there. At various times, for virtually inexplicable reasons, an undertaking that has been struggling suddenly takes a 180-degree turn and begins an upward trajectory. There was no indication from the numbers, substantively nothing extraordinary was changed, but all of a sudden, it’s as if the sun, moon and stars all aligned and you are heading toward Fat City.
Of course, we’ve all experienced the converse, when everything seems to be jelling and all of a sudden out of the blue your project takes a nosedive, plummeting to earth faster than the fastest falling star — or the stock market crash of 2008.
Even though you fancy yourself as tough as nails, you must hope against hope, experiment with unusual fixes, devise out-of-the-box solutions — do just about anything, including making promises to a higher power, along the lines of, “Let me get through this, and I’ll never ______ again.” (You fill in the blank as it is best kept between you and the great power in which you believe.)
Don’t get me wrong I don’t really believe in the good fairy or the ability to make everything better with the wave of wand, but I do very much believe what the famous New York Yankees manager Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
There is “magic” when some inexplicable ingredient kicks in that enables the best leaders to continuously generate “what if I try this” scenarios and then, out of nowhere, one of those ideas turns sure defeat into a salvageable success. Is this skill and intelligence at play? To a certain extent, yes, but there is more to it than that. The only thing I believe about unadulterated pure luck is the explanation from that overused phrase, “The harder one works, the luckier he or she gets.” The real answer more likely is a combination of knowing how to run a business: using your head, your heart and your gut to tackle a dilemma, recognizing that on any given day one of these faculties will get you through a difficult issue. On a great day when all three kick in, it’s almost as if it were magic, and you start hearing sounds that become music to your ears as the needed solution suddenly emerges.
In reality, the “magic” is having faith in the people with whom you work, maintaining a strong belief that for most of the seemingly insurmountable questions there are answers, trusting that good things do happen to good people, and knowing that every once in a while the good guys do win. This doesn’t mean becoming a naive Pollyanna. Instead, it all gets down to not throwing in the towel until you have exhausted all possibilities and logically and systematically explored all the alternatives, some of which may be very nontraditional.
This approach is also a direct reflection of positive thinking and mindfulness, which is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and ignoring all other distractions. In essence, some psychological studies have shown that when one is committed to success and has the discipline not to let the mind travel down a negative path, the brain can focus on producing unique solutions. Using positive psychology techniques can result in intense absorption that can lead to coming up with unlikely fixes. Some shrinks call this increasing mental flow. I call it a little bit of magic.
My simpler explanation for this phenomenon, which I’ve written about many times, is that success is achieved when you combine preparation, persistence with a bit of perspiration, along with a few ingredients that can’t always be explained, including having a little faith.
My advice is don’t always worry about your image of being a buttoned-up, corporate type. Instead, when the going gets particularly tough, it’s OK to become a Dorothy, as in the “Wizard of Oz,” click your heels twice and quickly repeat to yourself, “I believe, I believe.”
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Also available wherever books and eBooks are sold, and from Smart Business Magazine and www.SBNOnline.com. Contact Dustin S. Klein of Smart Business at (800) 988-4726 for bulk order special pricing.
Effective content strategies empower you to get the right message to the right people through the right channel at the right timeWritten by Dustin S. Klein
Everybody’s telling you that you need a content strategy, but what exactly is content strategy?
An effective content strategy coordinates all of your organization’s messaging — internally and externally — and gets the right message to the right people through the right channel at the right time.
When it works, people are motivated to interact more with your company. You attract new prospects. And you increase opportunities to secure new clients and expand existing business relationships.
Your content may consist of feature stories, press releases, videos, Web content, blog posts, books, whitepapers and even case studies. Essentially, it is everything and anything that discusses your business, professional expertise and ability to solve clients’ problems. It includes news about your organization and human-interest stories that feature your employees.
You can deliver your content through traditional media (newspapers, magazines, radio or television), a corporate website, YouTube channel, Facebook page, e-book, TV show, movie or social media. It is quite literally every single way you digest information online, offline and on the go.
Any content strategy starts with understanding your audience. Learn who that audience is, what different groups are in it and what messaging resonates most with each group.
Every audience comprises two unique segments — those who support you, such as vendors, investors or employees, and those who use your services, including clients and engaged prospects.
It’s also important to take a hard look at this list and ask, “Who is missing from this picture?” By doing so, you may identify new prospect streams to target that you previously had overlooked.
Next, identify your key messages. What is it that you want people to know about your organization and why?
Start at the most macro level so that your brand message becomes part of the content — the part everyone receives. Then get into the specifics. As you do this, you create a series of customized messages for each specific group in your audience.
Third, recognize that not everyone digests information the same way. Learn the best channel or channels to use for each group. Some like to read it — in print or online. Others prefer to watch or listen to it — live in-person or through a mobile video. And still others prefer their information delivered in 140 characters or less.
What works for your website visitors doesn’t necessarily resonate face-to-face with people at a trade show or conference. And print ad messaging may not be aimed at the same people who devour industry whitepapers or read thought leadership articles in trade publications.
The actual format of the content won’t matter as long as it provides the “why” people should care about your organization, frequent your establishment, buy your products or services, or use your solutions. If you accurately match message with audience and channel, you’ll do just fine.
Effective content strategy can quickly become a powerful tool in moving your business forward. Treat it as you would any highly critical strategic business initiative.
Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations of SBN Interactive, publishers of Smart Business magazine. Reach him at email@example.com or (440) 250-7026.
When the economy dips into a recession, companies have two basic responses: hunker down to weather the storm or be aggressive by attacking weakness in competitors and opportunities in the market. I have always preferred the latter approach.
During the past two years, our company made several important acquisitions and recruited top talent to forge a new business that positions us as a leading provider of a full range of marketing services for clients ranging from manufacturers and professional service firms to nonprofits and consumer products companies. I am pleased to announce the official launch of SBN Interactive, our content-driven interactive marketing firm.
SBN Interactive is the culmination of months of planning and hard work. It combines our long-standing expertise in creating award-winning content with our intimate knowledge of the latest marketing trends and tools. More importantly, it allows us to leverage our expertise in offline and online marketing to drive measurable business results for our clients across the full range of marketing channels: Web, mobile, video, social and print.
Today, customers move seamlessly across online and offline channels and expect the experience to be consistent, connected and available when they want it and how they want it. What does that mean in practical terms? It means that businesses need to deliver a consistent brand across the spectrum of marketing channels that their customers use. Some prefer print, others video, still others social media. Regardless, marketers need to present the right message to the right customer through the right channel.
Our team of interactive marketing strategists, content strategists, content creators, designers, developers, optimization experts and technologists understand and embrace this. They collaborate to develop strategies and solutions that meet the specific business goals of our clients. From custom magazines and website content optimization to social media strategies and fully outsourced marketing services, they have the expertise — and dozens of proven tactics — to help move the needle for a business.
At the heart of everything we do is our core competency: content. Content drives differentiation, and there are few organizations that exist or are organized in a way to efficiently deliver relevant content in the context of the connected world we live in. But we, at Smart Business, live and breathe content on a daily basis.
We have spent more than two decades working with and writing about some of the most successful business people in America, from iconic business builders like Wayne Huizenga and Les Wexner to maverick billionaires like Ted Turner and Mark Cuban. Now, we are putting those same skills — and many more we have developed over the years — to work for other companies.
We will still continue to bring you management insight, advice and strategy from the best and brightest business minds in the pages of Smart Business. However, thanks to SBN Interactive, we now have a more direct way to help businesses like yours meet their goals and prosper.
I invite you to learn more about SBN Interactive by visiting our website at www.sbninteractive.com or by contacting me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7034.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or email@example.com.
Peanut butter and jelly. Nuts and bolts. Lennon and McCartney. Love and marriage. What do all these things have in common? They represent great partnerships — things that go together, like, well, a hamburger and fries (when I’m not on a diet, of course).
Great partnerships epitomize the concept of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Vanilla ice cream is great, right? And who doesn’t love an ice cold glass of root beer? But put the two together and you’ve created an American classic: the root beer float.
Business can be like this, as well. Your company may be doing fine, but perhaps it can do even better with the help of a well-chosen partner.
After many years of being an independent businessman, I’ve followed my own advice and taken on a partner for the first time ever.
I’ve always felt that to be successful, I had to genuinely believe in my products, so it’s safe to say that my high hits-to-misses ratio was precisely because I considered them all to be labors of love. The Gazelle, Body-by-Bison, Cheeks footwear — they’re like my children in many respects. Still, there are limitations to what one individual can do.
Look to expand
I’ve wanted to expand the reach of my products for quite some time, and the financial resources that a new partner brings are certainly a critical component to achieving this goal. However, the scope of the endeavor also means the partner that I choose must be able to provide more than just cash; they must understand the business I’m in, backward and forward.
Look at what a partner can bring to the table to supplement your strengths. If I approach things intelligently, I can work with my partner to get the right buyers with negotiation skills so we can source products at the best possible prices in order to make a decent profit.
Of course, having a partner who is also willing to put the money up to buy the products is also key because of the importance of having an equity stake in what you sell beyond just collecting royalties.
What makes someone a good partner may vary depending on the business that you’re in, but it’s critical to understand that a true partner contributes more than just money to the venture.
Decide if a partner is a good fit
At the end of the day, the decision to take on a partner will hinge largely on what you determine to be your ultimate goal for your business.
For me, at this stage of my life, it’s about expanding the availability of my products internationally and to broaden my retail distribution channels. Some of it is driven by my desire to be the best I can be — but it’s also fair to say that I’m looking at monetizing the value of my trademarks, copyrights and patents so that there’s a tangible value to the company that can be sold someday.
The thought of giving up 100 percent ownership and control of your business to have a lesser share might be difficult at first. I admit it, I like calling the shots. But I also know that I can’t do everything at that level. The key is to focus on the big picture and try not to let your emotions get in the way of success.
Don’t let anyone tell you differently — nobody wants to run a company forever. And if you can build your company up to the point where it’s functioning well and is highly desirable, there’s a great deal of satisfaction in that, not to mention a nice pay day, when you can relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor — especially if they’ve been labors of love.
Tony Little is the president, CEO and founder of Health International Corp., and executive chairman of Positive Lifestyle International. Known as “America’s Personal Trainer,” he has been a television icon for more than 20 years. After overcoming a car accident that nearly took his life, Little learned how to turn adversity into victory. Known for his wild enthusiasm, Little is responsible for revolutionizing direct-response marketing and television home shopping. He has sold more than $3 billion in products bearing his name. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
U.S. employers are continuing to struggle with rising health care costs. To limit spending, many are shifting costs to employees while others are emphasizing wellness initiatives or controlling costs through health savings accounts and reimbursement arrangements.
“The biggest area of concern we are hearing from employers today is they can’t manage or predict the cost of health care benefits,” says Randy Narowitz, CEO of Total Health Care. “Having predictable, manageable cost increases is a real value to employers.”
Smart Business spoke with Narowitz about what to ask when choosing a plan.
What factors should companies consider when analyzing their employee benefits?
Typically, you start with the plan design that you offer today then decide if the company can maintain, improve or cut back on the benefits.
It’s important to evaluate alternatives in terms of cost and products offered. There are a variety of ways to differentiate carriers: size and strength of the provider network, plan design flexibility and premiums.
What questions should an employer ask a carrier when choosing a plan?
If you are using the benefits as a tool to attract or retain employees, then you want to evaluate the quality of the benefits and compare them to what else is out there in the marketplace. Features such as co-pays and deductibles are factors in the decision-making process and can be tweaked to be competitive. Also, access to care and a strong provider network are important components to consider.
If you are cost sensitive, then you want to ask about how to optimize the benefits at the lowest possible premiums and analyze the trade-off between the premium costs and the benefits.
What can a company expect from its relationship with its carrier?
Most employers use the services of a consultant or broker to assist them in the decision-making process, and their roles vary.
At one extreme, the consultant is your exclusive liaison to the carrier and can represent several health care plan options, helping the employer understand which products are best for its business. The consultant may also take the lead on administrative tasks including open enrollment, employee education, compliance and communications with the carrier.
At the other extreme, a consultant’s role is limited to the selection process. You can expect your representative to be able to differentiate the plans and the products depending on how you prioritize your decision-making criteria.
As an employer, you should expect your representative to be able to navigate through the decision-making process on your behalf.
Your plan representative, carrier and consultant also need to be able to educate you about the latest changes associated with health care reform.
How can companies save money when they are looking for a carrier?
Shifting the financial burden to employees by raising co-pays and deductibles, and having them pay a portion of the premium are ways to reduce and control your health care costs.
Savings associated with prescription drug costs can be achieved by raising co-pays or by restricting access to branded drugs when generics are available. Employees are very sensitive about changing medications, but there is a real opportunity to save money when you make these adjustments. Contracting with a restricted network, such as an HMO, and introducing wellness initiatives can also reduce costs.
What do employees need to know?
If you change a plan design in any way, it is important that the changes be communicated clearly.
Employees are very resistant to a change in their health care benefits. If you are planning to reduce benefits or shift costs to the employees, make a significant commitment up front to educate your employees.
Simplify the message and commit the time and resources to help them understand the changes before the new contract year begins.
Randy Narowitz is the CEO of Total Health Care. Reach him at (313) 871-2000.
Insights Health Care is brought to you by Total Health Care
Have you rethought your opinion of someone because of something they’ve posted on social media? Social media has blurred the line between business and personal acquaintances, with most people having both personal and professional contacts linked to their pages on social platforms such as Facebook.
Social media creates an environment where many of our social filtering inhibitions disappear, and people tend to feel freer in expressing views they would not otherwise express in real-life social and business settings.
We witnessed the best and worst of friends, family, business colleagues and acquaintances during the 2012 presidential election. In the offline world, most of us would refrain from lambasting someone for expressing their opinion. Most of us, however, would not begin verbal attacks against the individual or the candidates.
The election was an eye-opener
The presidential election shed light on the impact that the things we post on social networks has on our relationships with others. Forty-seven percent of respondents to a poll conducted by Mashable had unfriended someone on Facebook because of election-related issues.
Even if you did not actually unfriend someone, think about those you might be avoiding as a result of their comments or whose update settings you’ve changed to take them out of your active friend feed. Conversely, are your business colleagues or acquaintances taking these same actions against you?
Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project has conducted several surveys about people’s use of social networking sites for politics and personal political interaction. Here are some of the findings:
- 60 percent of American adults use either social networking sites, such as Facebook or Twitter, and 66 percent of those social media users, or 39 percent of all American adults, have done at least one social media civic or political engagement activity.
- 22 percent of registered voters shared their presidential vote on social media.
- 22 percent say they avoid making political comments on social media sites for fear of offending others.
- 67 percent of those who blocked, unfriended or hid someone on a social networking site did it to a distant friend or acquaintance.
- 21 percent of those who blocked, unfriended or hid someone on a social networking site did it to a co-worker.
- 16 percent have friended or followed someone because the person shared the user’s political views.
When it comes to blocking, unfriending or hiding someone on social media, overpolitical postings are often the reason why. The biggest complaints regarded someone posting too frequently about political subjects, posting something a user disagreed with or found offensive, and arguing about politics with the user or someone they know.
The loss of anonymity
For better or worse, the presidential election opened the floodgates of online bashing and heated arguments. In the early days of online interaction, most sites and media outlets allowed users to identify themselves using pseudonyms or user names rather than their true-life identities. That cloak of anonymity allowed many users to dispose of their inhibitions and interact as they would not otherwise in a real-world setting.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a shift from the use of pseudonyms or user handles to sites that now require comments and engagement be tied to social media profiles on Facebook that reveal our real names, along with potentially allowing viewers access to our personal and professional identifying information — including employment information.
When you see someone boldly expressing themselves across social media platforms, it has the repercussion of not only fragmenting relationships but also making you lose respect for ones you have always respected. It puts people in a different light and has the potential to make you rethink who you would want to do business with.
Adrienne Lenhoff is president and CEO of Buzzphoria Social Media Marketing and Online Reputation Management, Shazaaam Public Relations and Marketing Communications, and Promo Marketing Team, which conducts product sampling, mobile tours and events. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @alenhoff.
Throughout its history, vanpooling has been very good to Ann Fandozzi’s company.
For more than 35 years, VPSI Inc. — which is now branded as vRide — has grown and profited from running vanpools for commuters who want an alternative way to negotiate rush-hour traffic. After becoming the company’s CEO this past June, Fandozzi likely could have continued focusing solely on vRide’s vanpooling expertise with no ill effects to the company’s bottom line.
But Fandozzi saw more. She saw vRide’s potential to grow outward from its staple business, with a goal of becoming a comprehensive commuter solutions company. So Fandozzi challenged her company to expand and employ its expertise in new ways.
“My vision, and something that is palatable for us, is really broadening what we do,” Fandozzi says. “There really isn’t any type of commuter solutions company that does what we do, so that made it kind of exciting.
“When you think about it, we are really at an all-time peak of forces coming together, be it congestion in cities, be it gas prices, be it people’s time worth more of a premium than ever before. All of those forces coming together is something that allows us to come in and really offer a unique solution for commuters.”
To make her vision a reality, Fandozzi has needed to develop and implement a methodical approach that helps vRide — which generated $75 million in 2011 revenue — identify its target customers and create new ways to serve them by employing internal resources in the most effective way possible.
“If you have a commute of, say, 45 minutes or longer, you might come to us because of our vanpooling reputation,” she says. “But as we grow, we’ll be able to offer you a multitude of different solutions. We can certainly still put you in a vanpool, but we might also be able to put you in a carpool if you have a smaller group. No matter the service offering, the goal is commuter focus.”
Form a vision
To expand your company into new areas, you need a reachable vision, guidelines for achieving that vision, building blocks that will help you turn the vision into a reality and metrics that will help you measure your performance in relation to the guidelines and building blocks.
“Your vision has to be both broad and targeted,” Fandozzi says. “It has to be broad enough to capture the various value streams that the business model can deliver but focused enough that you’re not trying to be all things to all people.
“When we thought about broadening our company from a vanpool company to a commuter solutions company, our vision was significantly broader, but it was also very targeted from the sense that we are going to go after commuters and focus on solving their needs.”
To formulate an achievable vision for vRide, Fandozzi and her leadership team had to connect with the needs and pain points of current and potential customers. It required vRide’s representatives to gather customer data and conduct market research with an eye toward finding the holes in the marketplace that vRide could capably fill.
“A lot of it really has to do with delving deep into the customer’s world,” Fandozzi says. “In order to know where you want to go, you really have to take a step back and see what needs there are from a customer standpoint, areas that being underserved, and those are where the juiciest opportunities will usually present themselves. You go where the needs exist and where potential customers are being underserved.
“In our case, we’ve been looking at traffic congestion, people who are becoming frustrated with commute times, the state of the economy and gas prices, and people wanting more money in their pockets,” Fandozzi says. “We know those are the pain points, and from there, we dig a little deeper and get a read on whether we can expect those factors to increase or decrease over time.”
With traffic congestion and high gas prices remaining as fixtures of day-to-day life, Fandozzi’s team felt comfortable building a vision around how to address those needs. Then, she moved her company into the implementation phase.
“You don’t need to know every step of the 100 steps you’re going to take to get from here to there, but in general, you need to have a pretty good plan for how that vision can be achieved,” she says. “For us, a big fundamental building block has been the Web and mobile technology.”
Under Fandozzi’s leadership, vRide has taken steps to create a mobile-device app that can give would-be commuters instant access to potential solutions provided by the company.
“It’s the nature of addressing consumers who are on the go,” Fandozzi says. “You need an on-the-go solution. You need to automate instantaneous answers for consumers. For 35 years as a vanpooling company, that is a competency we didn’t have. So then the question becomes, ‘How do you scale to add those competencies?’”
It was a question of whether vRide needed to add new resources and competencies, or find new ways to utilize what was already in-house. Through rounds of organization analysis, Fandozzi’s team realized the company had a great deal of physical infrastructure already constructed, meaning scalability would be a mixture of the old and new.
It was a matter of creating new technology platforms and plugging them into what already existed in terms of vans, people and facilities.
“Currently, we have more than 5,000 vans, and there is a set of solutions that works really well there,” Fandozzi says. “So the question to the leadership team is, how do those get scaled? Anything from the way the vehicles get serviced and delivered, and anything or everything in between. That is why it really becomes a function of having those building blocks and being very honest with your assessment of whether you have them in-house, versus the items you need to bring in.”
Develop a marketing plan
With a vision and implementation plan in place, you need to get potential customers interested in your organization’s new direction. That is where a comprehensive marketing campaign comes in.
Fandozzi divides vRide’s marketing campaign into various phases focused on educating consumers and driving traffic. Once those phases are fully implemented, marketing can become an effective tool to spur further growth.
“You need to develop a phased marketing strategy that is appropriate for where you are in your development cycle,” Fandozzi says. “For us, we are kind of in a heavy learning mode right now, because we are still in the process of putting our fundamental building blocks in place.
“The next phase is once those building blocks are in place, you want to take what you’ve learned and use it to educate consumers. Then, once everything is place, you can expand your marketing efforts as you grow.
“For instance, we could then say that every man and woman in America who commutes more than 45 minutes to work is our target consumer,” Fandozzi says. “But that is a different kind of marketing effort from where we are now.
“The trick is in knowing what phase you are in at that moment but planning for the next one as you are in the current one.”
Developing a successful marketing effort around your vision often requires a combination of developing internal expertise and utilizing outside resources. Your internal marketing experts have an intimate knowledge of your business and your customer base. Third-party marketing firms will bring an outside perspective, along with data gathering and research capabilities that your company may not possess.
However, Fandozzi says external consultants should not drive your marketing philosophy. Though third-party firms bring useful skills and resources to the table, you and your team know your business the best.
“You want the latest and greatest, but you want it centrally managed with internal resources,” Fandozzi says.
“That is why you assign and train a leader who is centrally responsible for your marketing vision, because that is the person who is going to really understand where you’re going as a company, what building blocks are in place and what phase of marketing you’re going to need to be in for each phase of growth — are you in a heavy learning mode, or a heavy execution mode, and so forth.
“Those are the people who will be in charge of bringing in experts along the way to help them execute on each of those facets.”
If you make a misstep in your marketing, learn from it quickly and correct it — and have those systems in place from the outset.
“You’re testing along the way, fully preparing to fail,” Fandozzi says. “One of the things we do here is we like to learn fast-forward. You want to do something quickly and you want to learn from it quickly. Failure is OK if you learn from it, but you want to do it and correct it quickly. You are trying to fast-forward the entire process so that you develop definite answers on what you can move forward with.”
How to reach: vRide, (248) 597-3500 or www.vride.com
The Fandozzi file
More from Fandozzi on self-assessing as a business: There are several modes of self-assessment. One is having some conversations about just looking in the mirror with the leadership team and saying, ‘Hey, this is where we need to go and this is where we are.’ Another is bringing in experts, because sometimes you need a fresh set of eyes since you are just so close to the business, and it’s tough to see. One of the hallmarks of good leadership is knowing when to ask for help, and looking at experts instead of thinking that you have all the answers.
The third method is looking around at adjacent industries and seeing how they’ve been able to solve similar problems, to also free up your thinking. So, you may be stuck, but they’re going to bring in an expert and give you an expert solution along the lines of how you’re already thinking.
Fandozzi on hiring and retaining top talent: That is always the silver bullet to a business, having the right people. It comes from a multitude of sources. First and foremost, it comes from having the right screening techniques in place to make sure that as we’re bringing in people, they’re the right people. There is a lot of ownership on the part of the leader to make sure the vision is exceptionally clear, that people aren’t hunting in the dark and hoping they find the right answer.
There is a lot of personal ownership, for example, in order to develop and work with my people, I overinvest. People tend to underestimate how much investment this takes, but overinvesting on tools, resources — making sure we’ve put the right metrics in place. Then, it’s taking a step back and seeing if they can do it. It’s guaranteed you are going to make mistakes along the way, but you want those mistakes to be smaller-sized, and you want the wins to be bigger, and you want to course-correct as you go.
Microfilm does the job of preserving your company’s documents and publications for up to 500 years. But content digitalization offers an archival-quality storage method that allows convenient, searchable access to these materials.
“Digitalization allows you to unlock the potential of the content,” says Natraj Kumar, general manager of Business Process Outsourcing (BP0) Services at HTC Global. “The Financial Times, for example, already has the content and most is available in physical form. They wanted the content posted on their website so people can access it and they can make revenue from it.”
Smart Business spoke with Kumar about the process of transferring content to digital form, the value it provides and the types of companies that are benefitting from digitalization.
What businesses are utilizing content digitalization?
The companies that are transferring content to digital form are e-research businesses like ProQuest and Gale, which is part of Cengage Learning. They maintain databases of reference content used by libraries, schools and businesses. Their revenue is based on a subscription model, so they want to have their content on the Internet.
Another set of customers is national libraries, like the National Library of Australia or the Library of Congress.
Content digitalization helps anyone with a huge amount of paper or a large library. When the Enron and Arthur Andersen scandal hit, quite a few legal firms had to go through the paperwork and find liability and assets. The contract to convert that into digital form was for $25 million, so you can imagine how many pages were involved.
How is content digitalized?
Normally, material is scanned from books and microfilms. Sometimes it’s also from digital content. We’re working with National Geographic magazine and they send PDFs of issues.
But conversion from scanned to digital form is only part of the story. The indexing and granularity of the content is the engine behind the digital archive. Scanned images are fine, they’re still accessible, but if the indexing is good it helps people locate their content of interest quickly.
Indexing is a painstaking process; when it’s scientific, medical or biology related content it’s important to have people with degrees in those fields read through the material and do the indexing because it’s not just about English, it’s about subject knowledge. You have to know which terms to index.
What are the advantages of going digital?
Looking up all pictures of Mount Everest that appeared in National Geographic magazine would be a tedious task if you have to sift through 50 years of magazines. With the type of metadata utilized and the indexing that is done, a search brings out all of the details. These photos are not available on Google; this is copyrighted material and not available in the public domain.
It makes research materials so much easier to find. For example, Cengage has a platform featuring different content sources. When you search the term ‘Wall Street crash of 1989,’ you’re going to get articles from The Economist, the Financial Times and quite a few newspapers that they are hosting.
What should you consider when choosing a company to transfer content to digital form?
There are a lot of companies that offer this service and throw people into the job. It’s important that the company apply technology wherever possible, because of the cost benefit and speed to market. The typical archiving project runs from 750,000 to 1.5 million pages. If the project takes two years, your product could become irrelevant. You need a company that can get the job done in six months.
The company also needs to know what they’re doing to the extent that they will not be asking a lot of questions and tying up your employees. In short, they need the capability to deliver good quality and a large volume in a short period without engaging most of your resources.
Natraj Kumar is general manager of BPO Services at HTC Global. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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