Storytelling is the hottest trend in marketing today, and it’s no wonder. In a world that is moving at the speed of sound, it is nearly impossible to get your message heard. To do so takes imagination, creativity and enchanting your audience in a way that draws them in to hear your story.

When done correctly, storytelling removes people’s awareness that the message is an overt attempt to persuade them, and as a result, it has the staying power to drive them to action.

From the day we’re born, storytelling has helped us make sense of the world. Stories grab our attention and let us have experiences we wouldn’t otherwise have. Stories give us a glimpse into the past and into the future, stir our emotions, and take us places we never imagined.

Storytelling is an ancient art that has evolved in a myriad of forms — from the Bible to books to Broadway to movies and beyond. Creative storytelling captivates audience members, transforming them to active roles, and forms a positive and memorable experience with your brand that gets passed on within social circles.

In 2002, Verizon launched its “Can you hear me now?” campaign. The campaign, as you likely remember, took a Verizon technician to remote areas of the country to test the company’s wireless service coverage. Verizon could have simply stated that its service coverage was good, but embedding that message in a fun and interesting way within the “Can you hear me now?” narrative proved especially effective.

In the first year after the campaign began, Verizon’s net customers grew by 10 percent. In the second year, net customers grew by an additional 15 percent. Customer turnover decreased by nearly 30 percent in the same period.

Simply telling a story, however, is not enough. How you tell it can make all the difference. Here are three things every story needs to give it persuasive power.

Creativity

The first goal of any story is to grab your audience’s attention. Halftime of the Super Bowl has become an event in itself because of the creativity of the television commercials. We pay more attention to a gecko or a talking duck because the out-of-the-ordinary is more entertaining. A boring story will put your audience to sleep, but a creative story accomplishes the first step of directing attention to your message.

Involvement

Once you have their attention, get your audience members involved in the story. The story should become their own. Have you ever stayed up too late reading a book because you just couldn’t put it down? Even though we know the book is fiction, we “get into” it. It draws us in and makes us feel like we’re experiencing the action ourselves.

We relate to the Verizon guy because we’ve all been in a cellphone dead spot and know how infuriating it can be. The “Can you hear me now?” message, then, became our own message because we’ve all said those words before. We become involved in the story — our emotions and thoughts are more pliable. People are more apt to be persuaded and to adopt the message as their own when the story becomes their own.

Connection to the brand

Have you ever seen a TV commercial that is creative and involving, but by the end of the commercial, you forget what product or company the commercial featured? The most persuasive stories create a memorable association with your brand so that when someone is ready to purchase, your brand is top of mind.

So what story are you telling? Now more than ever consumers control what they pay attention to. It is up to you to captivate your audience.

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 22-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 30 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, kborth@greencrest.com or @brandpro, or for more information, visit www.greencrest.com.

 

Published in Columbus

 

While traveling around the U.S. and Canada training managers on the importance of embracing the generational workforce, I have noticed a consistent theme: Managers want to know how they can do a better job engaging their employees.

Every company can’t be like Facebook or SAS, where amenities such as free on-site medical care for employees and their families, low-cost/high-quality child care, a fitness center, a library, and a summer camp for employees’ children are the norm. Or like Google, which provides free food, fitness facilities, massage rooms, hair dressers, laundry rooms and on-site doctors. So what are you to do?

First, you have to understand what employee engagement is and the impact that the lack of employee engagement can have on your company or business.

Wikipedia defines employee engagement as the extent to which employee commitment, both emotional and intellectual, exists relative to accomplishing the work, mission and vision of the organization. Employee engagement has become an area of focus within organizations because it boosts employee retention, thereby helping companies avoid expensive employee replacement costs resulting from staff members who voluntarily quit their jobs.

According to the Society of Human Resource Management, the cost of replacing one $8-per-hour employee can exceed $3,500. Information like this obviously gives companies a strong financial incentive to maintain their existing staff members through strong employee engagement practices.

Organizations that recognize that higher employee retention, increased productivity and reduced absenteeism all have financial impact will see that their employee engagement efforts make sound business sense. Engaged workers tend to complete tasks faster, get higher customer service ratings and demonstrate greater loyalty.

Use these five quick tips to improve employee engagement starting today.

? Build trust: Employees need to be able to trust their managers and their company’s leaders. Clear communication is a key element of trust. To build trust, monitor how and what you communicate to people around you. In organizations under stress, sometimes it’s difficult for leadership to be completely forthcoming. Few people expect everything to be perfect all the time.

? Create connections: People want to have meaning in all aspects of their lives. If they do not feel the importance of what they do, they disconnect. Therefore, it is important to highlight the connections between things and people. Help employees see the big picture of how their role and objectives fit into the organization’s objectives.

? Appreciate people: Recognition is an important part of motivation and engagement, and it can be as simple as genuine appreciation. Praise people when it’s warranted and give credit where credit is due. The best recognition is immediate, specific and personal.

? Motivate others: Motivation is our desire or willingness to do something. An organization where people are willing and able to work toward a common goal is stronger than one where people are badgered, threatened or generally reluctant.

? Support growth: There is nothing more demotivating than feeling you’re in a dead-end job. Talk to employees about the directions they’d like to see their career paths take and help them identify opportunities for personal and professional development that will help them achieve those goals.

You don’t have to be a manager or leader of an organization to build trust, create connections, appreciate people, motivate others and support growth. Anyone at any level can make a difference in the work lives of those around them. The payoff shows up in increased innovation and productivity, lower turnover, lower sickness rates, and higher employee satisfaction. In a world warring for increasingly sparse talent, the importance of a strong employee engagement program should not to be underestimated.

Sherri Elliott-Yeary is the CEO of human resources consulting companies Optimance Workforce Strategies and Gen InsYght, as well as the author of “Ties to Tattoos: Turning Generational Differences into a Competitive Advantage.” She has more than 15 years of experience as a trusted adviser and human resources consultant to companies ranging from small startups to large international corporations. Contact her at sherri@generationalguru.com.

Published in Dallas
Thursday, 28 February 2013 19:00

How 'mind fields' can impact business decisions

According to experts, 85 to 95 percent of new products launched each year are failures. But since companies regularly consider industry data, market intelligence and relevant expertise as part of the decision-making process, these high failure rates are not likely due to a lack of information.

Rather, they are due to defects in our internal mental processes — flaws in the way we gather and process information that often go unnoticed and unaddressed. Here are three that can unknowingly create a virtual “mind field” of risk for business decisions such as new product launches.

1. Influence of the boss: Determining the level of sufficiency based on the source

In business, there are specific results that our boss or other stakeholders desire, and we attach strong feelings to achieving them. For example, if our boss has a significant attachment to launching a new product, we may spend disproportionately more time seeking information that validates the boss’s view than searching for information that conflicts with the boss’s desire.

As a result, we unconsciously go about gathering information under the boss’s influence and create an environment for faulty decisions. We end up living with the unrealistic but confident sense that we have figured out the way things are and that we have done that objectively. And if decisions do not go well, we find comfort that we can always blame our boss later.

2. Snap-judgment defense: The tendency to unreasonably defend decisions made solely on snap judgments

Due to the hard-wired threat response in our brain, we make rapid judgments about what is happening, which allows us to quickly determine what information is most relevant and then take speedy action. This is helpful when the threat is physical and we must act without delay.

But in business, we often find it easy to lose track of how quickly we are judging a situation or how much we’ve explained away.

Since we associate leadership with decisiveness, being decisive becomes a self-driven attribute causing us to focus solely on explaining and defending our snap judgment. Our logic circuits shut down and we are unable to objectively consider points of view that conflict with our own.

3. Shooting the critics: The tendency to marginalize people who disagree with us

Leaders know that any decision they make is subject to their judgment being questioned. And whether they’re fully aware of it or not, they’re really not in the market to have their decisions, beliefs and choices questioned.

Whether we are team leaders or CEOs, we subconsciously develop the tendency to marginalize people who disagree with us. When this happens, people stop telling the truth. They avoid rocking the boat and just quietly stay out of the line of fire.

The solution to this problem requires the courage to challenge our own thoughts. When these flaws in thinking are deeply entrenched, companies are at significant risk of being displaced by competitors, new technology and novel business models. By pausing to look for these cognitive defects, leaders can make better decisions, avoid problems, reduce risk, improve outcomes and never have to lament, “What was I thinking when I made that decision?”

Larry J. Bloom spent 30-plus years helping grow a small family business to more than $700 million in revenue. He is a consultant, the author of “The Cure for Corporate Stupidity: Avoid the Mind-Bugs that Cause Smart People to Make Bad Decisions,” and the owner of a start-up media and software company that promotes better thinking. For more information, visit www.curecorporatestupidity.com.

Published in Atlanta

It’s no secret that some companies struggle with creating an effective presence on social media. Navigating the tightrope between overt sales messaging and empty musings is tricky; turn your fans and followers off, and they’ll abandon your page as fast as they can click “unlike.” Inadvertently create a controversy, and, well, the consequences can be ugly (not to mention cached forever, thanks to Google).

The simple fact that most social media is “free” does not mean that we, as business leaders, don’t need to invest in a strategy. While we all know what not to do, it’s much more difficult to create a road map for what will drive engagement across social media.

At Petplan, we integrate our company culture and brand values into our social media activities at every opportunity.

But we don’t just talk about ourselves — we share stories of our fans and family members and invite our community to join in the conversation. We don’t just give news updates; we create destinations that are rich with exclusive content that is truly useful to our community members.

With social media, the driving force behind our approach, as it is with everything else we do, is our core value: Pets come first.

Our approach seems to be working, both in terms of driving incremental traffic to our company and also in raising our profile in traditional media. Two months after creating our Pinterest presence, Social Media Delivered, a social media consulting organization, included Petplan on its list of top 20 companies globally using the site.

Content is king

Content is the currency of social media, so you need to make sure that every tweet, post and pin has value. What makes it worthwhile? If the information you are sharing enables your audience to act on your shared values, it’s worth posting.

For Petplan, that means delivering content that helps people provide the very best for their four-legged family members. It matters to them, and it matters to us — this synergy drives engagement and earns us those ever-important likes, retweets, shares and pins.

Don’t copy, complement

Many businesses make the mistake of putting exactly the same content on all of their social media channels, but this one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t work.

Each social media site has a distinct character and a unique audience who favors it; if you’re not playing to the medium, chances are you’re missing the message. Share industry and personnel news on LinkedIn, tweet breaking news and updates, post interesting photos and calls to action on Facebook, and pin your most engaging images related to trending topics on Pinterest.

Think of each channel as another facet of your business’s personality and tailor your content to that.

Optimize

If you want to harness the power of social media, you need to make it easy for your audience to share — and easy for the content to be attributed to you. Optimize all your communication channels to include both “share” and “follow” buttons. Make sure your retweet widgets include your Twitter handle.

Use websites like sharethis.com to integrate social media into the content you produce. It will make your customer experience more meaningful and your social media standing more robust.

A solid social media strategy takes planning, time and a lot of attention, but if you invest the resources in building an effective presence, you’ll capture new customers, fans, friends and influencers.

Whatever you do, don’t forget the most important piece of the social media puzzle: analytics. Gaining quantifiable data gives you insight into social sharing behavior that will tell you what you’re doing right (and wrong!), reveal where improvements can be made and keep you on the path to becoming a brand powerhouse in the future.

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, Fetch! — both headquartered in Philadelphia. Originally from the U.K., she holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at press@gopetplan.com.

Published in Philadelphia

I was recently having lunch with a private company CEO and the topic of private equity came up. When asked if he had ever considered seeking a private equity partner to fund and support his planned growth initiatives, his answer was expectedly, “No, we don’t want to sell the business yet. We want to focus on growing the business.”

While I can certainly appreciate his perspective, that opinion is consistent among many business owners and leaders. Namely, that private equity is primarily a liquidity mechanism, not a preferred tool to fund and support company growth. Moreover, many business leaders often see their growth plans as incompatible with private equity, which they associate with high leverage and limited financial flexibility.

This perspective of incompatibility was also on display during the recent presidential election. Private equity firms were broadly characterized as opportunistic value extractors, rather than enablers of company growth and job creation.

While the purpose of this article isn’t to defend private equity (there certainly are some firms worthy of this negative characterization), significant evidence exists to suggest that, in general, private-equity-backed companies experience proportionally greater growth. This is particularly true for small-to-medium-sized businesses.

Private capital a key to growth

According to studies performed by GrowthEconomy.org between 1995 and 2009, U.S. private-capital-backed business grew jobs by 81.5 percent and revenue by 132.8 percent, compared to 11.7 percent and 28.0 percent, respectively, for all other companies.

In California, over the same period, the story was even more favorable to private equity.  Private-capital-backed businesses grew jobs and revenues by 123.1 percent and 155.2 percent respectively, compared to 11.3 percent and 26.4 percent for all other California businesses.

While each situation is unique, there are many reasons why private-equity-backed companies experience greater growth.

Access to capital

With the continued tightness in the credit market for small-to-medium-sized businesses, private equity can be a source of capital to support growth initiatives.

Additionally, private equity firms often have preferred relationships with lenders, giving businesses more access to attractive and flexible debt financing where appropriate. With greater access to capital, companies can more quickly, nimbly and opportunistically implement growth initiatives.

Strategic guidance and ongoing operational support

A private equity partner can provide much-needed strategic and operational resources to support the company’s growth initiatives and ongoing operations. This often leads to more thorough and refined growth strategies, as well as more effective plan execution and implementation.

Private equity firms often have large networks of industry experts and experienced operators that they can bring to bear to support company growth and operations.

Increased capacity for acquisitions

Private-equity-backed companies are significantly more acquisitive than other private businesses. Acquisitions can be an attractive source of growth, allowing companies to increase their customer footprint, expand geographically, create greater scale and enhance capabilities in a relatively short time frame.

However, successfully identifying, executing and integrating acquisitions can be very difficult. Many business leaders don’t have the time or experience to effectively pursue acquisitions. Private equity firms generally have expertise executing acquisition strategies and can be valuable partners in supporting companies as they identify, negotiate, execute and integrate acquisitions.

Private equity can be a compatible and effective tool to support and achieve company growth — not simply a mechanism to achieve liquidity. While private equity is not appropriate in every situation, and not all private equity firms are growth-oriented, business owners and leaders should carefully consider a private equity partnership when evaluating their ongoing growth initiatives and funding options.

Josh Harmsen is a principal at Solis Capital Partners (www.soliscapital.com) a private equity firm in Newport Beach, Calif. Solis focuses on disciplined investment in lower middle-market companies. Harmsen was previously with Morgan Stanley & Co. and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Published in Columnist

With St. Patrick’s Day quickly approaching, I started to ponder the idea of luck and if it plays a role in our business lives.

Over the years, I have had so many people tell me how lucky I am after hearing about the ups and downs of 30-plus years as an entrepreneur. At times, I’m not sure how to feel about the comment, so I usually just smile and say, “Thank you, I know that I am a blessed man.”

We’ve all heard the great quote from Thomas Jefferson, who said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

My twist on Jefferson’s wise words would read something like this: “The more we plan our future, the more likely our future will look like how we planned it.”

As business leaders, I believe our role is to plan and implement a preferred future for the business and its employees, customers, suppliers, stakeholders, etc. Though planning for the next year, five years and beyond is part of a leader’s strategic process, there have been occasions where luck became an important part of making a connection or a deal possible.

I remember a time when luck seemingly played an important part in Molly Maid’s survival. I was sitting at a picnic table on a sunny Michigan afternoon in 1989 when I “happened” to meet Lynn Drayton, the former president and COO of Compuware. Before that spring Sunday, I had never met or heard of Lynn before nor could I have predicted how important that meeting would be.

It’s been 24 years since Lynn and I met, and he was the right person at exactly the right time to help me restore prosperity to our troubled company. After sharing the story of Molly Maid’s challenges, we formulated a plan to buy back the company, restore standards for providing great service and re-engage the franchise owners’ trust in the system. As my business partner, mentor and best friend, Lynn’s wisdom, counsel and capital investment was integral to Molly Maid stabilizing and rebuilding.

While long hours, hands-on leadership and open communication are critical parts of growing successful companies, great timing and the ability to remain open to new solutions have certainly been a part of my story as well. Looking back at the day at the picnic table, it’s difficult to imagine any solution other than meeting Lynn and arriving at our “planned preferred future.”

Another part of our history involved adding a second brand to our holdings. By researching the need for home services, we knew there was a demand for a professional home repair and maintenance franchise. By searching trademark records, we discovered David LaValle, the founder of Mr. Handyman.

While the plan to find a partner was intentional, the timing of reaching out to David was serendipitous. If we had reached out to him a year earlier, he would not have been ready to grow. If we had waited too long, another company would surely have captured the opportunity. Perhaps David LaValle’s Irish background had something to do with it or our persuasive request to purchase his concept and grow it with a proven method was too attractive to turn down.

Either way, that partnership created a need for a multiconcept franchisor now known as Service Brands International. The foundation of these two companies paved the way for additional jobs, business ownership opportunities and reliable services to consumers to be possible.

I am a lucky and blessed man to have met such people who have been integral parts of my world, and it started at a picnic table, doing nothing more than watching the world go by.

As you work hard and plan your preferred future, I wish the best of luck to you too!

David McKinnon is the co-founder and chairman of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Service Brands International, an umbrella organization that oversees home services brands, including Molly Maid, Mr. Handyman and ProTect Painters. To contact McKinnon, send him an email at davidm@servicebrands.com.

Published in Detroit

A healthy and growing organization proactively plans for succession and transition. It’s simply the nature of business. As my company recently celebrated 25 years, we turned our focus to purposeful succession. I wanted to share with you the key steps involved, the importance of planning and a few things I’ve learned along the way.

1) Get the next generation involved.

As your company grows and develops, it will become increasingly important to begin transitioning leadership to the next wave of leaders. This process will look different for each individual company. For me, it means moving away from our entrepreneurial leaders (generation one) to our professional, internationally focused leaders (generation two).

Be sure to constructively build on the strengths of each generation and tap into the energy, passion and vision of your current leaders to fuel the transition and create an even better future for your business.

2) Shift your board’s focus to policy.

When your board members focus on operations, they are participating in the day-to-day management of the organization. As you prepare for purposeful succession, the focus should shift to policy where they enact and enforce policies, which broadly govern the business. This move helps your organizational governance become more formal through the creation of an entity that protects your company’s health and well-being.

3) Select the next president and

his or her successor.

Your policy board has one critical succession responsibility: to choose the next president and his or her successor. It’s important to remember that the board’s succession responsibilities end with choosing the president. It is the new president, not the board, who has succession responsibility for the executive team.

4) If it’s a family business,

address the family estate plan.

This plan is critical to any successful generational transition but admittedly can be uncomfortable and awkward to deal with. Questions that need answers are akin to personal estate planning when the attorneys ask, “Who gets custody of your kids?” In family businesses, the first difficult question is, “Do we have a competent family member successor, and, if not, who gets custody of the business?”

Purposeful succession plans set the groundwork for the unplanned successions, which is important because once you have carefully laid out your plans, you may think, “What could go wrong?” But, the reality is whether due to illness, disability, death or any number of other scenarios, unplanned succession is a part of life.

When these challenging events happen, they create an extremely high level of emotion, distraction and added workload, in addition to leadership style changes. They also tend to cause anxiety in the organization’s employees, vendors and partners. As a result, in this “unplanned” scenario, these anxieties must be addressed directly and immediately by an already overburdened executive team.

With that in mind, let me leave you with this: The only difference between planned succession and unplanned succession is the amount of time you have to deal with the situation.

In the case of an emergency succession, communication with employees, vendors and partners begins immediately and must be completed within a couple of weeks. In a planned succession, the communication time is only slightly extended to a couple of months. The exact same emotions and distractions are present in both scenarios — the only difference is the level of intensity.

Joseph James Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of FONA International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world. For more information, visit www.fona.com.

 

Published in Chicago
Thursday, 28 February 2013 19:41

Jerry McLaughlin: Live outside the box

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.

 

 

Published in Northern California

akr_clm_SueChaseThink of the best leader that you have ever known. What is it about this person that made him or her such a great leader? It is very likely that we are all describing someone who is highly passionate, respected, driven, caring, servant-minded, ambitious, motivating, knowledgeable, confident and who gets things done.

What is it about that person that motivated you to put forth extra effort to perform? Better yet, how can we each be leaders or be that person who others want to follow?

Actually, leadership does require those traits described above or those exhibited by the person you thought of as the best leader. Those traits are often inherent, although they can also be enhanced through experience, mentoring and education.

Let’s understand the important qualities and behaviors that demonstrate successful leadership.

Leading by example. Whether it is working hard, making the difficult choices, taking risks or sacrificing personal time, a successful leader needs to consistently lead by example. It’s the key to authenticity.

Integrity. Leaders are honest and dependable. Others need to count on you to not compromise on your principles. Others need to see that you can and do take the tough road through a situation to “do the right thing.”

Solid goals. Know your goals and what you are seeking to achieve. A leader needs to have a solid objective. A successful leader has direction, and when others know what it is, they know the expectations, catch the vision and seek to work with the leader to achieve it. It is difficult to get others to do what you want if you don’t know what you want.

Knowledge. Know and understand your obstacles, competition and risks. You need to leverage yourself and your group for the best chance of success. This may mean that you need to consult an expert.

Provide for autonomy. Those working with a leader need to understand the defined goals and from there, individuals need to have the ability to be creative and have the ownership to decide how to achieve the goal. Successful leaders encourage people to think, innovate and own the solution.

High standards. Leadership should expect a high level of excellence. People want to be proud of what they are doing. High standards should not be ones where the goal is perfection. The standards should be high but still maintain the allowance and the realistic expectation that people will make mistakes. Good leaders minimize the lessons learned through errors and oversight, although they take optimal advantage of these opportunities to learn.

Humility. Leadership is not about you; it is about others and reaching the goal. As one has more successes, this trait may become more challenging to maintain. Leadership focuses on what was accomplished and acknowledges those who accomplished it. Humility understands that the accomplishment came through those you lead. Humble leaders encourage others and give them credit.

Execution. Execution requires discipline to get things done. Many leaders have the ability to define great strategies but often there is a gap between what is desired and one’s ability to achieve it.

True leadership is a demonstration of all the characteristics listed above. To some extent, they are inherent in each of us and it is our choice to develop them. We each have the opportunity to search ourselves for these characteristics and step up to be the leader for someone in our lives.

Sue Chase is COO of Clinical Research Management Inc., www.clinicalrm.com. She is filling in for quarterly columnist Victoria Tifft.

Published in Akron/Canton

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 dfazekas@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7056.

Published in Akron/Canton