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

Published in Akron/Canton
Saturday, 31 December 2011 19:01

Jerry McLaughlin: Making memories

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.

Published in Northern California

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

Published in Florida

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 wphillips@orangelabeladvertising.com or rreiter@orangelabeladvertising.com.

Published in Orange County
Friday, 30 September 2011 20:01

When do you want your proposal to be heard?

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.

Published in Akron/Canton
Friday, 30 September 2011 20:01

How Infor improved its sales approach

Your salespeople can be the lifeblood of your organization, but often they can get stagnant.

“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.”

How to reach: Infor Global Solutions, (678) 319-8000 or www.infor.com; Vorsight, (703) 637-0544 or www.vorsight.com

Gaining information

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.

Published in Atlanta

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 kborth@greencrest.com, or for more information, visit www.greencrest.com.

Published in Columbus
Wednesday, 31 August 2011 20:01

Get up, get out and hit the road

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?

Absolutely not!

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.

Published in Cleveland
Wednesday, 31 August 2011 20:04

Jay Cohen: seven steps to sales success

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.

Published in Florida
Sunday, 31 July 2011 20:01

Creating a B2B social media strategy

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.”

How to reach:WordWrite Communications LLC, (724) 935-7580 or www.wordwritepr.com. Follow @wordwritepr and @paulfuriga on Twitter.

How to reach: Eloqua, (866) 327-8764 or www.eloqua.com. Follow @eloqua and @jenhorton on Twitter, and read her blog posts here.

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.”

How to reach: Hoover’s Inc., (512) 374-4500 or www.hoovers.com. Follow @hoovers and @jamesc_rogers on Twitter.

How to reach:WordWrite Communications LLC, (724) 935-7580 or www.wordwritepr.com. Follow @wordwritepr and @paulfuriga on Twitter.

Published in Akron/Canton
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