Wee Email Marketing Tip of the Day

I LOVE email marketing, but only when it’s done  the right way.  Effective email marketing is not actually complex, it’s simple.  You need to:

  1. Build a decent, non spammy email target list that is opt in.  Yep, opt in.Email Marketing Tip
  2. Have a great subject line that gets the reader to open the email.
  3. Focus on one, or if you MUST, a few succinct topics – no one has time for 6 paragraphs.
  4. Clean design is essential. Hire someone to create a custom template if necessary.
  5. Have a strong, explicit Call to Action – otherwise, what’s the point?
Periodically I’ll be providing email marketing tips via this blog; here’s the first one:

Wee Email Marketing Tip of the Day:

Beginning any email with “Dear Valued Customer” is so transparently unauthentic it’s laughable.  For one, many people on your email list are NOT your customers.  Secondly, if you really valued your customer you’d know their name.  It’s a lot more genuine to just say ‘Hello’ at the beginning if you don’t have the contact name.

Now, go kick your email marketing in the rear end.

Your proposal must tell a great story.

Recently I had the opportunity to craft a proposal for a company I have known for many years.  Creating the proposal was in some ways effortless – similar to the penning a blog post that you feel so fervently about, it just pours out of you.

Of course there were many rewrites and brain storming sessions with my team, but it was easy for me to put my finger on the many steps that together would create a symphony of a marketing strategy. Think that’s highfalutin talk for a marketer?  Well, maybe it is… but I mean it.

One of my team members said upon reading that proposal:  “It reads like a great story.”writing great proposals - Ariel Marketing Group

Being the analytic sort that I am, my next question was: “Why aren’t they all like that.”

The answer: because, too often, I’ve been lazy.

In order to know, deeply, what your client should do, you must do the research.  And yes, that means hours upon hours of studying up on their past marketing successes and failures.  It means asking a lot of questions to grasp whether their internal culture is hurting or hindering them. It means immersing yourself in who they are, and sometimes veering over the line into the realm of management consulting; your great plans won’t work if they don’t have the infrastructure to implement them.

The issue, naturally, is that we don’t always have TIME to do that kind of research for every Request for Proposal that comes our way.

But enough TIME is not really the issue; how you use your time is.

My answer is: stop writing proposals for every opportunity that comes along, and focus your time and energy on the ones you are most suited for.  That does NOT mean the ones you’d most like to get.  When you walk into a meeting 110% confident that you are the right fit for the client, and that your plan is the right fit for them as well, it’s almost impossible for them to say no; the presentation will FEEL as if it’s necessary for them to move their business ahead.

Conversely, when you walk in the room and the primary energy you’re sending out is hope and admiration for the client, the confidence is missing, and usually the proposed strategy is weaker.

I know this, from experience.  Anyone who has been selling for any length of time can tell you the difference in the two types of meetings.

Approach your proposals as if you are writing a great historical novel; gather the facts and consider and brain storm until you know the company thoroughly – THEN write the proposal.

If you need help it just so happens that the brilliant Gini Dietrich penned this amazing post while I was in the middle of writing mine.  Great minds I tell you.

 

When is it time to fire your customer? A review.

I wrote this post in August of 2010, and I still feel strongly about the topic. The brilliant Margie Clayman started a discussion on Facebook after reading this post on Entrepreneur.  After an interesting debate I thought I’d dust off my blog archives and re-read this to see if almost 2013 me still thinks 2010 me was right. Yep, I do.  I haven’t changed a single word: 

When do you fire your first customer? Certainly not when you start out and can’t pay your bills. When your business is new, your main concern is earning enough to pay your rent, light bill, and hopefully buy enough groceries to feed your family. You’ll take jobs sometimes knowing they may not be worth it; the customer will be unacceptably difficult and you’ll put so many hours into that one project that you basically work for free. But hey, you’re the new kid in town and as the old saying goes, beggars can’t be choosers.

And that’s ok, in the beginning. You need to get some work under your belt, build up your portfolio, and get the word out that you’re good at what you do. But there comes a point when you must start saying no to the obvious fire a clientproblem customer and be much more selective with who you work with. When you finally get so busy that you can’t keep up with all of the work you have, you must do two things:

1. Raise your prices.
2. Fire, or don’t hire, your problem customers.

If you own a small business, or even if you’re a consultant and part of a larger group, you cannot clone yourself. Only so many jobs get done, so you must pick the profitable jobs that will help your reputation, not harm it. That means the client that makes a million changes because they never know what they want and can’t make a decision to save their life must go. That means the customer who wants to haggle over price at the END of the job must go. That means the client that drags their feet and doesn’t get you the information you need in a timely manner, slowing you down and costing you time you could be spending on other projects must go, no matter HOW much you like them.

If you’re sought after because you’re good at what you do, you deserve to earn a living and work with people who can help you maximize your, and ultimately, their potential. The entire point of self employment is having control over when you work, how hard you work, and YES, WHO you work for. Not every sale is worth it, and not every customer deserves your time. The key is, recognize when you’ve reached the point that you cannot keep up. If hiring new staff is not an option, you need to raise prices and be more selective with clients. I guarantee you that it will improve your bottom line, and your quality of work-life.

The Reason You Fail

Success is tough, no matter what anyone tells you.  You must work hard, insanely hard.  You must remain focused on your goals.  You must implement your plan… and still you fail.The reason you fail

Why?

Because you keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

Why do you keep doing this?

Because you can’t see that you’re doing it… you’re too close, or you’ve convinced yourself that you’re right.

Step back.  Far back.  Examine what you do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

Something you are doing, or not doing, again and again… is causing you to fail.

No one else can stop it but you.  No one else can change your behavior but you.

But first you must seek out and face that repeated mistake, and stop doing it.

 

Networking and Sales: The Low Budget Marketing Strategy That Works

Most small business owners and/or marketing departments face the challenge of growing sales with a budget that forces them to maximize every dime.  Too many times I’ve heard some version of  “We have no money for marketing” uttered marketing on penniesby a client, and my answer is always the same “That’s no excuse.”

For one, it’s rarely true. Often they don’t have MUCH money, but that’s not the same as having none. If you truly have none, shut your doors now.  If we’re honest about your limited budget, we have somewhere to start.  Of course the first thing you need if you don’t have it is product literature – a business card and brochure at the minimum.  I know, we do live in the world of online connecting, but you need to give the people you meet in real life something concrete to walk away with that convinces them that you are actually in business.  After that, you need a plan that involves little dough and lots of ‘go’ on your part.

Networking is the keystone of your low budget marketing efforts, and sales is right there with it.  Too many people get hung up on the difference between Sales & Marketing, and to that I say “Hogwash.”  The line is and should be blurred beyond visibility. Marketing is creating the message and keeping your brand in the forefront of people’s mind; Sales is closing  the deal. If done properly your networking (marketing) will blur itself right into a sale.  If you don’t know where to start, start here:

  1. Your local Chamber of Commerce: often maligned as cliquey time wasters, I can tell you that a Chamber is what you make it. For a fee of usually under $300 you can gain access to hundreds if not thousands of other business owners, and very often inexpensive or free ways to market your business.  If you want to explore how to effectively use your chamber, check out Frank Kenny.  At the minimum, go to the events they offer, join  a committee  and get to know the directors.  Actively seek out business by asking for it.
  2. Community Involvement: joining a charitable organization, the PTA, or any other community based group that has a mission is a great way to get to know a lot of people in a non-threatening environment. Of course you already know that nobody likes to be sold, but people DO want to buy from people they know. Make sure they all know what you do if they ever need your services.
  3. Cold Calling: and stop rolling your eyes, gagging, or whatever the idea of cold calling makes you do.  I used to turn my nose up at it too, until I got turned onto S. Anthony Iannarino‘s philosophy. The truth is that there was a time when most salespeople were dependent upon cold calling. Now, in the internet age we’ve all become a little soft. It’s so much easier to be rejected via email or LinkedIn, and we can at least tell ourselves we tried.  Cold calling works, and I would argue even more effectively because so few people do it.  You need to have a plan when you call, and be simultaneously interesting and delicate, but by using it you can at least get a meeting to introduce your company.
  4. Surgical Marketing: In order for cold calling to really work, you have to have both a target AND a plan of action.  You need to be able to tell that target in a matter of seconds how you will help them, not what you can sell them. If you haven’t created a target list, do it, and then figure out the best way to approach each individual target.
  5. Referral Requests: You have friends, former co-workers, and professional connections. Use them. Again, your request must be delicate and it wouldn’t hurt to offer a referral reward alongside it. Nearly every business starts out by leaning heavily on the circle of people that know and care about the founders. Every person you know well should understand what you do, how passionate you are about it, and what the perfect referral is.
  6. Social Media: It isn’t free because it costs a lot of TIME, and it has the potential to be a huge time suck, but managing a Social Media page properly allows you to illustrate what you do and how it helps your potential customers.  It can open up an entirely new stream of lead generation.  (You didn’t think we’d make a low budget marketing list without it, did you?)  Eventually you’ll have to pony up money to measure its effectiveness, but in the early days it will take lots of your time and analysis to see what works.

All of the above will cost you minimal amounts of money and tons of sweat equity, but it is the way out of your low budget marketing scenario.  You will have to network to create opportunities and then sell the deal by persistently following up on genuine leads. You’ll have to be able to identify those worthy leads and close the deal; at the end of the day it will always be about your ability to sell.  Do the above consistently, keeping your goals in mind and remaining undeterred no matter how many rejections you encounter, and you’ll work you way out of the low budget marketing scenario and earn yourself the ability to become truly strategic about how to market and grow your business.

Do you have a story about building sales on a shoe string budget? We’d love to hear it.

Build it and they WON ‘T come.

Not to your website, your store, your blog, and not even to your event. No matter how nice your brick & mortar store looks, how beautiful the graphics on your website, or what a great event you have planned, people won’t come just because you build, pay for or plan any of the above. It is STILL your job to bring them in the door. Recently a client of mine complained to me about an event he organized and sent out eblasts for… With 3 weeks to go, and without the response he wanted, frustrated, he considered cancelling it. My question:

What other PR have you done? Local publications emailed? Phone Calls to the Evangelical Networkers in your circle? Ads in the local publications or groups where your invitees would see it?  Good old fashioned phone calls?

Not your cup of tea? Then how about hiring a PR firm that knows how to get butts in the seats?

Are you waiting for your customers?

Because I work with small business owners I see this sort of thing often: someone has a great idea for a business, spends their last dollar and every bit of energy creating the perfect model, product or idea, and they leave no resources to market their creation. Most of the time they never even planned on marketing it. They sit in their beautiful storefront thinking people will walk in just because they opened their doors. Too often I’ve seen them close those same doors in a matter of months with no idea why it didn’t work.

It doesn’t work if you don’t have a plan; and I mean a Marketing Plan, not a Business Plan. How much will you spend per month and how is that money being spent? What print publications, if any, work in your market for your product? When and what pages of that publication will your target customers be reading? When do they listen to the radio? What TV channels do they watch and WHEN are they watching? Even more basic that that, who ARE your target customers? After your website’s built, HOW do you plan on bringing them there? Do you have a blog? Is pay per click advertising right for you? Are you using Social Media and do you know how to use it effectively?

If you haven’t asked yourself these questions you should start, and if you have and don’t know the answers, find someone who can help you figure it out. There are loads of smart marketing or advertising companies who can help you come up with a strategy that ensures you’re not wasting money. If you don’t know where to start find someone you trust who does as soon as possible so you’re not sitting there waiting for someone to notice your great ideas.

This post was originally written in 2010 and updated for today.  It is still true: you NEED a plan.

Don’t let your client set the budget.

I’m a HUGE believer in the relationship being the cornerstone of good salesmanship; what separates the wheat from the chaff is what you do with that relationship to leverage sales and make your client happy with the results.Selling what your client needs.  If you really understand your client’s needs and believe in your product, you cannot let a client set a strict budget limit before the negotiation begins.   Too often in this weak economic atmosphere we sell from fear; fear that we won’t get the deal based on our client’s belt tightening.  Fear that we won’t get paid and therefore won’t be able to pay our bills. Fear that we’ll ‘lose the sale’ altogether by presenting what they need rather than what their stated budget needs.

You must find a way to erase that fear totally if you want to do your job properly. Your job, my sales friend, is to sell your client the product they really need, not the product that fits their budget.

Often, the client  doesn’t know what that is; YOU are the expert after all.  In addition, they have no idea what the ROI will be.  You need to explain all your plan and its projected ROI before you set the budget with your client.

A client just left my office having spent 3 times the budget they’d set for marketing, and I can guarantee you they are thrilled with their decision.  I listened to her when she told me her initial budget,  but I didn’t allow that to dictate our discussion over what she actually needs. Her number did not factor into what I presented to her.  If you work backwards by allowing the budget to dictate what your client purchases,  you do both you and that company a disservice.

Develop the optimum plan first, analyze what that will cost, and then present that to your client. Explain that their company’s goals come first, and you cannot do your job properly if you don’t educate them on what will work to achieve those goals.  IF they object because they sincerely can’t spend what it takes to execute your plan,  re-analyze your plan and cut the least necessary pieces.  If your plan is a solid one, and you do your job convincing your client of its value, you will do very little cutting.

You Can’t Sell Anything UNLESS….

In the early stages of my career I was blessed to work under one of the greatest Sales Men I’ll ever know – Al Frink. He taught me a lot of The first lesson in salesthings, but one of the first lessons was:

“You can’t sell anything unless you are willing to walk away from the table.”

That doesn’t mean you want to walk away, or that you go in with a plan to walk away. You go in with a plan to bring value to your client. You go in with a plan to convince them that your product or service will help them. You go in with a plan to walk out with a sale. But, you must be willing to walk out without one if you are going to be successful.

You see, Al built his company with a tagline that he lived by “Quality without Compromise.” He believed, deeply and passionately, in his product. He would never, ever undervalue it. He was nearly always successful in making believers out of his clients, but if he couldn’t bring them to believe in it he was never willing to compromise price or service to bring them on.

Your customers can sense whether you have the same commitment to the value of your product; they can smell your lack of confidence if it’s there. If you aren’t fully committed to your product they never will be. You must be willing to get up from the table and walk away if they can’t or won’t be convinced of the value of your product. When you are certain of that fact, walk away and move on to someone who is open to all you offer.

Restrooms are for Customers Only

I am baffled by the widely accepted practice of hanging up a sign at a Retail Location that says: Restrooms for Customers Only. Why would any retail location NOT welcome people into their space? If you know anything about shopping habits you understand that familiarity makes shoppers relax, and when they’re relaxed they spend. One of the biggest challenges for any new retail location is to get people in the door the first time.

What’s your reaction when you see the Restroom Warning Sign? Mine is always “I’m never going in there;” you’ll only let me pee if you make money off of me? I envision myself with my 4 year old daughter bursting at the seams and no where to pee. I think, “Wow, are your restrooms too precious for the truly pee-needy?”

When I ask store owners about this I get lots of excuses:

1. “It was becoming a real problem with people coming in JUST to use the bathroom.”
2. “There were people living down the street under the bridge…”
3. “I’m not cleaning up after non-customers”

Really? Don’t many of your ‘customers’ come in and NOT make a purchase? Isn’t browsing allowed anymore?

Traffic is the life blood of Retail….. there are hundreds of books written on how to use signage to get people in the door, how to layout your store to get people to buy… the psychology of retail is finely tuned. No where in any of those books will you see the suggestion that you put up signs telling people not to come in your door.

IF you are one of the very rare Retailers who has a homeless problem right down the street, you can converse with your maker about how compassionate you want to be to a person in need of facilities. But the vast majority of Retailers using this sign are NOT dealing with that particular issue.

My office is located in an affluent town where we do not have loitering issues, and I see this sign everywhere.

In fact, there is an ice cream shop that has the following signs to make customers feel really special as they wait in line to order:

“Have your order ready when it is your turn.”
“If you drop your Ice Cream, that is YOUR problem.”
“If you are with a large group we will only issue ONE check.”

WHAT message do you think they’re sending? I know that’s an extreme example, but here’s the school of thought I come from:

I love my customers, and I even love the ones considering becoming my customer. I am always grateful and amazed when they turn their hard earned dollars over to me for my services. I think there is far too much negative energy in the world; I don’t intend on pushing any of it on the people who fund my paycheck. If I get to the point that I’ve even tempted to put up a sign like that, I’m quitting.

After everything our economy has been through in the last 4 years let me tell you something:

Every person still in business should be grateful to the people who walk through their door. You never know who you’re turning away with negative signage.

So if you’ve got a sign like that up, and I don’t care if it’s at the Gas Station you own, go take it down right now. Have some pity on the need-to-pee-ers. And have some gratitude that you own your business and people think it’s worth walking through your door.

Lessons In Persistence

In my heart of hearts I’m a ‘salesman.‘ Although my career has taken me far from the “boots on the ground” type of selling where I started, my soul will always be in Sales. If you’re good at sales someone always wants to promote you, and if you are a natural salesperson, you take that promotion in your never ending quest to “achieve more.” You find great Sales Hearts who wind up in all sorts of places; sometimes with great success… sometimes bemoaning the fact that they ever left the front line.

Through my career in Sales/Sales Management and now Marketing, I’ve been exposed to thousands upon thousands of Sales People, Sales Tactics, and Sales Strategy. Reading a fabulous post by S. Anthony Iannarino reminded me in a very compelling way about the 2 qualities successful sales requires:

COURAGE & PERSISTENCE

I cut my sales teeth in the Flooring Industry, not glamorous but full of gritty mom and pop stores where the basics of smart business meant the difference between doors open or doors closed forever. And I covered New England; anyone who has ever sold in that beautiful segment of the country knows that NO ONE is welcomed with arms wide open unless they’ve known each other’s families for generations. It was a great place to learn tough and learn quick; I was lucky to meet quite a few old timers who were willing to share their stories and advice with me. One of these stories has stuck with me for the last 20 years and I’ve probably retold it a hundred times. Here it is again:

One of the most successful stores in Southern New Hampshire literally dominates their area. I went in full of hope and enthusiasm and was determined to build my sales. Months went by; although the salespeople became quite friendly with me, I saw no orders. My prices were good… they liked my product, but I was getting NO traction. Frustrated, I went to speak with the owner and literally asked him “What am I doing wrong.” His reply, “Nothing, you’re doing everything right. Just keep doing it.”

Then he told me this story: He had another female rep. (we were a rarity in those days) who represented Armstrong Sheet Vinyl for a specific distributor. He informed the woman the first time she came into his store that he had been buying his Armstrong from the other distributor for 20 years, was great friends with the other rep., and although she was a very nice lady… she shouldn’t waste her time trying to get his business.

Most reps, who are counseled ad nausem by their managers about “efficiency,” would have thanked the owner for his frankness and spent their time developing other prospects, but she didn’t. Each quarter when new samples came out and were shipped to that store, she came in and updated the display. On her rounds she’d stop in and make sure the Salespeople had everything they needed it and checked in with the owner. He always asked her politely why she kept trying so hard when he gave her no business, and her response was always the same “one day you might.”

After about 18 months of this continued pattern the owner had a lead on a very big commercial job and could not get a hold of his long time rep. for a sharper price. After waiting 24 hours to hear back he called the other rep. and was taken care of on the spot. The next day he decided that she would get 50% of all of his company’s Armstrong business.

It may seem like a lot of work for half of the reward, but this store was HUGE and did a tremendous volume. That 50% was worth a gigantic spike in our persistent rep’s overall numbers.

It may seem like a simplistic tale, but it’s an honest one, and the lessons I learned through this other rep’s experience have made me stick with a prospect far longer than I would have without knowing this story. Most of the time it has worked to my benefit.

I am not advocating that you latch on to every prospect with this sort of tenacity; you would never have the time to do that and it would be nonsensical in some cases. However, there are some prospects whose shift of only 50% of their business to you would transform your company. Your job is to understand who they are and stick with it.

Your job is to also understand which of those clients you already have, and remind yourself that there may be another company out there as persistent as this woman in my story; you need to treat your current clients with persistent and excellent service to make sure they stay with you.