Home prices rise for eighth month in September: S&P

NEW YORK, Tue Nov 27, 2012 — Single-family home prices rose in September for an eighth straight month in a further sign that the housing market is on the mend, a closely watched survey showed on Tuesday.

The S&P/Case Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas gained 0.4 percent in September on a seasonally adjusted basis, in line with economists’ forecasts.

The index’s eighth month of gains on a seasonally adjusted basis is the longest since prices bounced in 2009 after the government unleashed stimulus measures following the market’s collapse the previous year.

“This is the positive trend that prices have been on for the past year. The housing sector continues to recover,” said Peter Hooper, global chief economist at Deutsche Bank.

Prices in the 20 cities rose 3.0 percent year over year, just topping expectations for a rise of 2.9 percent.

“In September’s report all three headline composites and 17 of the 20 cities gained over their levels of a year ago,” David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at Standard & Poor’s, said in a statement.

Abercrombie seen as early winner in Thanksgiving clothing sales

NEW YORK, Mon Nov 26, 2012 – Abercrombie & Fitch Co. seemed to come out ahead of other clothing retailers during the annual Black Friday kickoff to the holiday shopping season, analysts said on Monday.

Abercrombie and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. were among the perceived winners in a four-day weekend when some stores opened on Thanksgiving night and people shopped online in greater numbers than ever before.

The National Retail Federation trade group reported on Sunday that total sales for the four days from Thanksgiving through Sunday had risen 12.8 percent to $59.1 billion. That is down from a 16.4 percent increase last year.

Abercrombie, which operates the Hollister chain in addition to its namesake stores, “was the clear winner,” with the longest lines and units per transaction during the weekend, according to Oppenheimer analyst Pamela Quintiliano.

Pending home sales rise modestly in September

WASHINGTON, Thu Oct 25, 2012 — Contracts to buy previously owned homes rose far less than expected in September, an industry group said on Thursday, but the data continued to point to an improving tone in the housing market.

The National Association of Realtors said its Pending Home Sales Index, based on contracts signed in September, gained 0.3 percent to 99.5.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected signed contracts, which become sales after a month or two, to rise 2.1 percent after declining 2.6 percent in August.

“This means only minor movement is likely in near-term existing home sales, but with positive underlying market fundamentals they should continue on an uptrend in 2013,” said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun.

The housing market is steadily healing after collapsing in 2006, supported by modest job gains, increased job security and record low mortgage rates. Pending home sales were up 14.5 percent in the 12 months to September.

Contracts were up in three of the country’s four regions. They fell 5.8 percent in the Midwest to the lowest rate since January.

Joy Gendusa: Stop worrying about slow seasons

Joy Gendusa, Founder and CEO, PostcardMania

If you own or operate a business, you have probably experienced slow periods where revenue was declining and you didn’t have enough leads coming in. But there is actually a way to market yourself so that you are not at the mercy of the season or economy again.

There are two things that you need to control your revenue year-round: an integrated marketing approach and an organized marketing plan.

Here’s how to do it.

Integration

Integration means that each piece of your marketing works together in a coordinated way. For example, an integrated approach might look like this: You have a direct mail postcard campaign that drives traffic to your website. Your website is optimized to convert that traffic into leads by getting them to fill out a form.

Then, that form populates your email database and your leads receive pre-determined emails from you for the next six months. During that time, your sales team follows up with the prospects over the phone.

Of course, the specific strategies that make up an integrated campaign vary by industry, but what follows is a good general outline.

In order to fully integrate your marketing approach, you will need the following systems in place:

  • Lead generation. For this, I suggest direct-mail postcards. There are other options such as television, radio, billboards, letters and more. But I have found postcards to be the most cost-effective.
  • Lead reception. Receptionists should have a predetermined way to handle callers and gather their contact information. Your website needs to be optimized to gather prospects’ contact information, which is easily done by offering free downloads where the prospect is prompted to fill out a simple form.
  • Follow-up. You’ll want to go with an email service for this, because email is the most affordable follow-up option available and usually yields great results when used in this capacity. Postcards and phone calls are also great for follow-up, too.

The Internet is also a great resource to learn more about each of these elements.

Organization

It is one thing to have an integrated marketing approach, and it is another thing to have an organized, fully integrated marketing plan.

It may sound obvious, but you need to be intentional and organized about exactly how the pieces of your marketing plan will integrate. For example, how many days will go by before an online prospect receives the first email from you? How many days will you wait until you call your prospects? Does the design on your postcard match the design of your website?

The best way to handle this is to sit down with your marketing staff — or by yourself if you don’t have a marketing staff — and evaluate the process, beginning with lead generation and continuing all the way to the sale. You’ll also need to answer the questions that come up along the way.

Some of these questions you’ll want to ask and answer include the following:

  • How am I going to generate leads?
  • How am I going to receive these leads?
  • Is the method of reception going to immediately let the prospect know they are in the right place?
  • How am I going to get prospects’ contact information?
  • How am I going to follow up with leads?
  • How are my different follow-up methods going to work together?
  • How often should I contact my leads?

Once you have built a solid structure for your marketing campaign, you can get to work implementing it. As you do, you will notice that your revenue numbers follow a pattern that correlates to your marketing output. And when that happens, you’ll have confidence that, even in your off seasons, you can get the leads you need by simply increasing your marketing output.

Joy Gendusa is the owner and CEO of direct mail marketing firm, PostcardMania. Joy began PostcardMania in 1998, with nothing but a phone and a computer, never taking a dime of investment capital. Since then, PostcardMania has expanded to offer its clients more services including website and landing page design and development, email marketing and full marketing evaluations — all while continuing to educate clients with free marketing advice. In 2011, PostcardMania reached almost $45 million in annual revenue and the company now employs more than 195 people, prints 4 million and mails 2 million postcards each week, and has more than 53,000 customers in over 350 industries.

Please visit www.postcardmania.com for more information. Find Joy on Google+.


How to ask the right questions and increase your business when sales growth is elusive

Larry Goddard, CTP, Managing Director, SS&G Parkland

Businesses have been able to keep their heads above water during the recession — and the agonizingly slow recovery — by increasing efficiency and reducing expenses. However, many find sales growth more elusive.

“Their focus has been belt tightening, cutting expenses and doing more with less, but that’s not going to carry them through the next five years,” says Larry Goddard, CTP, managing director at SS&G Parkland. “The challenge is to focus on growth in a slow-growing economy, and everyone is going to have to be better at sales strategy and execution.”

Sales strategy, however, often gets less attention than lowering costs, as you’re dealing with an uncontrolled environment of customers and competitors, he says.

Smart Business spoke with Goddard about the questions business owners should ask themselves when sales are stagnating.

Are you operating in markets that are conducive to success?

Business success is always tough, but it is even tougher when operating in markets that make success harder to attain. Markets that are shrinking, low margin, or dominated by formidable and powerful competitors invariably make sales growth harder to achieve. Businesses that do not operate in markets that are conducive to success are likely to be consistently disappointed with their sales performance — unless they have strong ways to counteract unattractive markets.

You can make markets more attractive by changing markets, finding growing niches within markets, or changing or adding distribution channels. You might differentiate your product or form a marketplace alliance to gain a competitive edge. For example, a company made cameras that could be attached to news helicopters, a shrinking market, so it modified the product to work in the military, where cameras give tank drivers a bird’s eye view of their surroundings. This small switch increased sales from $4 million to $100 million per year in six months.

Do you have compelling value propositions?

Businesses that don’t differentiate themselves in a way that customers can clearly see the value provided put themselves at a major disadvantage. Value propositions are the customer’s perception of differentiation — not the company’s. Too many businesses, when asked about their differentiation, will say their service — without having compelling facts to support this claim. This response frequently comes from the top three or four competitors in the same market, but they can’t all have the best service. To make this claim, a business should be able to document that its on-time delivery or its resolution of customer complaints or some other important aspects of service are superior.

Even the best salespeople have trouble selling without compelling value propositions. How successful do you think Zig Ziglar would be selling encyclopedias, typewriters or pay phones today? Conversely, how good does the salesperson have to be to sell an iPhone? The iPhone value proposition is so strong that the product virtually sells itself.

Generally, at the macro level, there are two types of value propositions — product and nonproduct. It’s important to know the difference because it changes your sales strategy. Product value propositions are usually more tangible and easier to sell.

Are you using the best people for the job?

Just like most quarterbacks don’t make good linemen and seldom are pitchers good hitters, not all salespeople are good at generating new business. Being comfortable meeting new people, dealing with rejection and persisting in the face of defeat are traits that only a small percentage of salespeople enjoy. These traits are usually essential for success in new business development. Frequently referred to as ‘hunter’ salespeople, most businesses are fortunate if one in four of their salespeople fits this description.

Salespeople who don’t fit this description are known as ‘farmers.’ Farmers are vitally important salespeople, but they should play a different role — their jobs should be to work with, service and grow relationships with existing customers.

Most businesses don’t differentiate between hunters and farmers and expect both types of salespeople to generate new business and service existing customers. This is a mistake because hunters are generally not good at customer service and farmers, while trying valiantly to succeed, are usually poor at new business development.

Do you provide salespeople with the tools and support to be successful?

Here are some important resources and tools you need to equip your sales force with.

  • Training — Salespeople need training in selling skills and product knowledge.
  • Collateral materials — Effective brochures, websites, business cards, etc., are essential.
  • Lead generation and qualification — Because hunters are so hard to find, the good ones should not be bogged down looking for and qualifying leads. Companies should conduct market analysis, identify and prequalify leads. The best leads should then be given to hunter salespeople to pursue.
  • Plans and goals — Salespeople need to know the sales plan, strategy and goals. It is harder for the sales team to be effective without this information.
  • Accountability — Just like other employees, salespeople will generally be more effective if they are held accountable for achieving their goals.
  • Leadership and coaching — Most salespeople need effective mentoring, guidance, encouragement and appreciation.

It is easy to blame the sales team for poor sales results. Incompetent, unmotivated or disorganized salespeople could be part of the problem. However, unattractive markets, the lack of compelling value propositions, expecting farmers to be successful in new business development and not supporting the sales team are more likely to be the root cause of slow sales growth.

Larry Goddard, CTP, is a managing director at SS&G Parkland. Reach him at (440) 394-6150 or [email protected]

Insights Accounting & Consulting is brought to you by SS&G

How to integrate a new employee into your organization

Merrill Dubrow, President and CEO, M/A/R/C Research

A few weeks ago, I met with a member of our new business development team who had been on the job for a week or so. A few days before the meeting, I started jotting down notes about the message I wanted to convey and the points I wanted to make. These notes are the basis for my column this month.

There were seven points I wanted to stress to help the new team member be successful in our organization. Since my notes were a little cryptic, I will not only list them but expand on what they mean.

1. 900. My belief is that everyone has 15 minutes, or 900 seconds, of extra time during the day. Nine-hundred seconds where they have nothing to do; 900 seconds of basically free time.

For me, you need to take advantage of those 900 seconds and get better at something every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s gaining better computer skills or becoming a better presenter, just as long as you get better at something every day.

2. A new best friend. This was not only easy for me, but it’s essential. You need to make LinkedIn your new best friend. Since LinkedIn will be your new best friend, you need to spend time with it and get to know it. You need to understand the value of the tool and the power it has.

I truly believe if you aren’t using LinkedIn every day as a business tool, you are not as successful, efficient or smart as you could be.

3. Uncover hidden jewels. No, this isn’t about “Storage Wars.” (Even though I love that show, it isn’t what I’m referring to.) Every company has hidden jewels.

The question is: Where are they located? Where is that great proposal hiding? Who can fill you in on the company history, and who has the best value proposition that will help me sell our products and services and turn prospects into clients?

4. Get off to a quick start. I truly believe that if you get off to a quick start in the morning, you’ll accomplish more during the day. If you get off to a quick start prior to 8:30 a.m., this will be a springboard for a successful day.

People tend to feel good about themselves if they make things happen as soon as their day starts.

5. Each “no” gets you closer to a “yes.” Sales is a numbers game. Every time you get a no, even though it might hurt or upset you, it will get you that much closer to a yes and a new client.

6. Be a creature of habit. Without question, I am a creature of habit. I get in to the office and leave at the same time almost every day. I eat oatmeal at the same time, and I check the revenue of the company as soon as I arrive. The quicker you get into a routine, the better off you will be.

If you are in new business development, set aside the same time in the morning and afternoon to call prospects. Call your friends back at lunchtime when it might not be the most productive time.

7. You’re only alone if you want to be. This point is very important — especially if, like our new team member, you work at home. It’s very easy to bury yourself in your job and try to figure everything out yourself. Don’t do that. Stay connected to your office.

When your technology isn’t working perfectly, don’t try to fix it yourself. Call your IT department. When you’re responding to a proposal, if you have writer’s block, call a team member. Don’t struggle for hours. Remember, time is money.

Incidentally, the reason I had seven points was not that I couldn’t think of another few. My belief is that there are too many top 10 lists, and a top seven list would have a better chance to resonate with our new team member.

Merrill Dubrow is president and CEO of M/A/R/C Research, located in Dallas. The company is one of the top 25 market research companies in the U.S. Dubrow is a sought-after speaker and has been writing a blog for more than four years. He can be reached at [email protected] or at (972) 983-0416.

Apple sold more than 5 million iPhone 5 in first three days

CUPERTINO, Calif., Mon Sep 24, 2012 – Apple Inc. sold more than 5 million iPhone 5 smartphones in the three days after the new device hit the marketplace on Sept. 21, the company said on Monday.

Apple said it sold out its initial supply of iPhone 5s, as demand for its latest smartphone exceeded initial supply.

While the majority of pre-orders have been shipped to customers, many are scheduled to go out in October, Apple said.

AT&T says iPhone 5 fastest-selling iPhone ever

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, Mon Sep 17, 2012 – AT&T, the No. 2 U.S. mobile service provider, said it set a sales record with Apple’s iPhone 5 over the weekend, making it the fastest-selling iPhone the company has ever offered.

AT&T did not disclose how many iPhones it sold, but said the iPhone 5 was still available for preorder and would go on sale from Sept. 21 at AT&T retail stores.

It is not unusual for Apple products to sell out the first day. Orders for the previous iPhone 4S, the last product the company introduced before the death of co-founder Steve Jobs, surpassed 1 million in the first 24 hours, beating Apple’s previous one-day record of 600,000 sales for the iPhone 4.

Apple’s U.S. store, at www.apple.com, on Monday morning showed pre-orders for the iPhone 5 would take 2-3 weeks to ship.

The phone’s other carriers, Verizon Communications Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corp., also showed similar delays in shipping the phone.

The company began taking orders for the iPhone 5 at midnight Pacific Time (0700 GMT) on Sept. 14, but shipping dates for the slimmer and faster smartphone slipped by a week within an hour of the start of pre-orders.

McDonald’s August same-store sales rise, but miss views

OAK BROOK, Tue Sep 11, 2012 – McDonald’s Corp.  reported a weaker-than-expected 3.7 percent rise in August sales at established restaurants around the world on Tuesday, as austerity measures in Europe and global economic volatility weighed on results.

Analysts polled by Consensus Metrix were expecting a gain of 3.9 percent at restaurants open at least 13 months for the world’s largest hamburger chain.

Still, the results show a rebound from July, the company’s worst month in more than nine years. McDonald’s had flat same-restaurant sales around the world for that period, on slight declines in all three of its major regions.

August same-restaurant sales were up 3 percent in the United States and up 3.1 percent in Europe. Analysts had expected a 3.1 percent rise for the United States and a 3.3 percent increase in Europe.

Europe is McDonald’s No. 1 market for sales, just edging out the United States. Positive results in the UK, France and Russia offset weakness in Germany and certain Southern European markets, the company said on Tuesday.