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.

Where’s Your Call to Action?

Chris Brogan’s post about how a Sales Page on an internet site should work got me thinking about how many marketing/sales efforts I come across with absolutely NO Call to Action. Beautiful brochures, sexy websites, stunning print ads will not bring you new customers if you don’t entice the viewer to take the next step.

On your website, after your compelling outline of how you will benefit the viewer, the call to action may be as simple as a “Click Here” with a conversion form to capture information, but you need to “give” the viewer something to get them to commit to connect to your company. A free trial, demonstration, or downloadable ebook can be a great beginning to the trust building phase of your client/company relationship.

On print material your call to action may be: To book an appointment, call or email…. or Visit our Website or Order a Product by…

In most print ads space is limited, so that Call to Action needs to be dynamic and succinct. It may be a call to Sign up for Weekly Tips on _______ where you push them to your website and then capture their information; you must then deliver on the promised tips.. If you have a promotion going on make sure a sense of urgency is created for them to take the next step so as not to miss out on the promotion.

Like most things marketing related, this is all common sense – why spend time, energy and money developing a great campaign that doesn’t lead your prospect to do exactly what you want them to do. Make it easy on them by making that call short and explicit. Then watch your analytics grow and you’ll have your own “aha” moment.

7 Ways You Should Use Good, Old Fashioned Tactics in Business

Last week’s Cloud debacle got me thinking, hard, about how quickly we embrace new technology and how sometimes that might not be a good thing. If you aren’t aware, part of Amazon’s Cloud went down and took a lot of websites with it, including Hootsuite and Foursquare. It stayed down for hours meaning any sites effected could not do business.

My company stores all of our graphics and most client files on both our own server and href=”http://basecamphq.com/”>Basecamp; if anything happened and we lost those files we would basically have to start our company over. Additionally, we’d be putting our clients in a terrible position since we also host their sites and store a lot of their files. Because of my paranoia and the fact that I’ve always had trouble embracing new technology, we also use good old fashioned external hard drives. My issue with new gadgets/software etc. is not born out of laziness or fear, but because of how much the ‘implementation slump’ slows you down.

The business I’m in, New Media marketing, requires that we stay ‘up’ on all of the latest shifts in Internet marketing, so I’ve FORCED myself to explore each major new development. Yet I cling to the old stuff for too long I am sure; – I have a second generation iphone because frankly, I don’t see how upgrading will effect my work life.

While pondering the new vs. the old , and after waiting an entire day for my beloved Hootsuite to come back up, I read an article about Floor Coverings International getting customers during the recession the old fashioned way – by reaching out via phone and face to face meetings.

And it struck me; we’d better not ditch ALL of the old methods.

Apart from the external hard drive, here are the Old Fashioned touches you should consider keeping:

1. Sending a handwritten thank you card, and if you think you don’t have time for that use Send Out Cards; sending ANY card will make a big impression on people used to receiving junk & bills exclusively in their mail box.
2. Picking up the telephone and actually having a conversation in place of an email.
3. Thanking someone for a Referral; how often are we too busy rushing onto the next task to do this?
4. Asking for an introduction, LIVE, face to face, with a target customer.
5. Real, live, face to face networking instead of stalking our prey via email and Social Media.
6. Civility in email; no one is to busy to say hello, please, thank you or good bye in email communications.
7. Buying the important books in paper; I love my Kindle desperately, but when it broke I lost all of my books until Amazon kindly sent me a new one. I was glad I’d bought the most important books in hardcover so all of my margin notations were intact.

Think you’re too busy for any of these? Do yourself a favor and just try a few of them for 1 short week; I guarantee you’ll change your mind.

Selling on Price is a Death Wish for Your Business

Larson Juhl, one of the premier framing manufacturers in the US, has brought me in a few times to speak to their Retailers on marketing and Social Media. Lee Mendenhal, their Director of Key Accounts, has a keen interest in helping his account base understand how to harness the powers of Social Media to grow their small businesses. Last time we spoke Lee asked my opinion of Groupon; one of his customers wrote a fabulous blog wondering if it was ruining retail.

I’m all for saving money when I can, but I have intentionally steered my life in business away from price driven sectors because you have to work so much harder to make money when your margins are small. If the only way you can differentiate your product or service from others is based on price, you’re at the mercy of anyone who can afford to do it for less; allowing competition with deeper pockets the choice to do it for less just to hang you out to dry . I’ve watched so many volume driven businesses fail, especially in this last recession, because they needed crazy large volume due to their low margins.

Why on earth a small frame shop would want to put themselves in the position of competing with Michael’s is beyond me, because they can’t spend the ad dollars to beat the big guy, and they can only do so many jobs. If the low margin jobs take up most of their time they will be busier making less money.

A friend of mine owns a sign shop that’s been in Scranton for 75 years; this is not your rinky dink little business – they do the huge, how-the-heck-do-they-dothat kind of sign. Years ago they did a big volume in National chains that had businesses in the area; the work was steady but the terms were dreadful and the margins lower than their standard work. The owner bravely decided that she didn’t want any part of those National chains – at one point over 50% of their business was dependent on it. 5 years down the road they are more profitable then ever depending on the signs that actually make them a decent margin.

The moral of the story is this: Coupons are good for getting people in your doors for the first time. If they’ve never bought one of your tchotchkes and a coupon will get them in, GREAT. If you need to sell HUNDREDS of a certain item to break even, Coupon-away. But if your volume is limited because you can only handle X amount of work due to manpower, space limitations etc., base your marketing method on quality, customer service – ANYTHING but price. Leave Groupon to the guys in the other category – the guys who want to work twice as hard for their dollars.

Selling is Being Human

After my 2 decades plus in sales and then marketing, this is what I know:

1. The only way to sell anything is to communicate with another human being with authenticity.
2. You cannot be genuine if you don’t like people; if you don’t like people, Sales should not be your career.
3. “Selling” online is no different than selling face to face; people have to trust and believe you.
4. No one likes to be sold; people want to be informed and enchanted (if you don’t get that, buy Guy Kawasaki’s book)
5. If your product does not improve someone’s life no one will buy it.

I was at a seminar yesterday offered by Larson Juhl’s VP of Sales, Tom McCarthy – a real old school pro. He was speaking about a beautiful, top of the line Finished Corner frame to a group of 40 retailers. Instead of lecturing them about the products he taught them how to sell it and gave them a list of tips to make it easier. At the core of all of it was “know your stuff and enchant your customer but NEVER be disingenuous.”

That last statement can be applied to ANY kind of sales – ‘real’ or online:

“Know your stuff and enchant your customer but NEVER be disingenuous.”

You Can’t Sell Anything if You’re Not Ready to Walk Away….

I was schooled by one of the all time great salespeople – Al Frink, who with his partner Scott Guenther built a small, agile, and very profitable carpet mill: Fabrica Fine Carpet & Rugs. Al was responsible for selling the product and sell it he did. It was 10 times more expensive than most of its competitors but Fabrica made beautiful product; with Al’s selling skills and the salesforce he developed, the company grew to gross 65 million a year. That’s not Microsoft, but it made a lot of people very wealthy over the course of the time Al and Scott ran the show.

Almost every great sales technique in my arsenal came from the learning at the feet of the great salespeople of that company:

1. Every customer wants an experience. Don’t show up and go through the motions – if you’re selling something special you’d better dress, speak and act the part. That doesn’t mean be artificial or put on airs, but it does mean that you show up with pastries instead of donuts and that you speak about your product with care and respect.
2. Create a vision for your customer; they DO want you to help them make the decision to buy – they just don’t want to feel pushed into it. By painting a picture of how your product will improve their life you make it easy for them to say yes.

And most importantly:

3. You must be ready to walk away if the deal isn’t good for your business; you can’t sell anything to anybody for a price that is acceptable to your own margins if you are not ready to leave without closing the deal. People can sense if there is room to squeeze you, and good negotiators will squeeze until they have you as far as you’ll go. You have to be mentally ready to walk away from the table at a certain point before you sit down to negotiate or you’ll never close a deal.

One of the most freeing realizations you can come to is that one customer will not make or break your company, no matter how sweet it may be to land them. Sometimes deals are lose/lose if they are set up so that your company can not do their job right or make enough money in the process of doing the job. If you read this blog you know how important I think customer service is, but you don’t have to sell every prospect. Great companies understand this and only enter into deals that allow both parties to benefit from their partnership.

You Are Your Client’s Bouyancy

You are not allowed to drag them down, EVER, no matter how close you may become. You are not allowed to tell them about your troubles at home, your struggles with employees, or ANYTHING that may dampen their spirit. They should leave every phone call or meeting with you feeling more inspired and hopeful than they did when it started. Period.

Is this fair? Who knows. Is it the way things are? YES. No matter what they tell you , your clients want to know that you are solidly going upwards… you are never faltering or doubting your direction. You may change course but you may not discuss WHY until you’re certain that you are.

I have a friend who owns a Title Insurance company and has been making a fortune these past few years; if you know anything about the Real Estate business you’ll know that profitability has NOT been easy of late. If you know anything about Title Insurance you’ll know that it’s not an industry many get rich in. Why is my friend Bob doing so well? Sure he’s smart and does a thorough job, but the REAL key to his success is that you are guaranteed a smile when you interact with him. He is ALWAYS upbeat, quick witted and he listens when you speak. He makes everyone he interacts with feel special, and he makes you smile. That’s it. People WANT to be around him. People choose to do business with him when there are hundreds of others in his area they could choose.

So think about that long and hard before your next customer interaction. Suck in whatever stress you have and save it for your best friend – make your customer feel like they mean something to you, and give them a smile. The ROI on THAT is immeasurable.

Apologizing Immediately

If you’ve ever worked in sales at any point in your career I KNOW that there were times you’ve had to apologize. Sometimes for promises you made but couldn’t keep; sometimes because of circumstances beyond your control. It is one of the worst parts of anyone’s job to have to first acknowledge that you’ve dropped the ball to yourself, and then admit it to your clients. As a Sales Manager in the Manufacturing Industry I sometimes faced situations where we were letting our customers down because of vendor, equipment or trucking issues that were beyond our control. My position made it necessary for me to take the reins and apologize.

I learned this:

1. The sooner you admit to yourself that you won’t make the deadline the quicker you’ll be able to develop an alternative plan.
2. As soon as that admission is made, PICK UP THE PHONE or set up a face to face and inform your customer.
3. Accept all responsibility, apologize, and offer an alternative plan.

Of course your client may still be very upset, and you need to allow them to be. But the way you handle difficult situations where you disappoint a client will make or break your long term relationship with them. I have often found these situations make the relationship stronger because the client learns that you won’t leave them in the lurch and they get to see how you perform under pressure. Think of it as an opportunity to really prove your integrity & dedication to your customers.

And then give yourself a break and move past it. None of us are perfect and things do go wrong. As long as you face the situation head on with dignity & honesty you can close the door on a bad day/week and move on.

Get the Important Stuff Done Now

All along the Eastern seaboard is a silence that only an insulating snow storm can bring. People are digging out and stepping far outside of their regular routines, many secretly loving that time is standing still. Quite a few already planned this as an additional play day and the snow is just an added bonus. Some meant to get some work done today, but with offices, roads, and transportation shut down – why not play?

Hey, I’m all for ‘playing;’ as this snow blankets the northeast I’m tucked away in a beach front hotel on Florida’s sunny Gulf Coast, and I plan on LOTS of playing with my daughter this week. But I’m also doing The Big Stuff this week – planning my 2011 Growth & Marketing strategy. What does that mean? That means I am asking myself 2 questions:

1. How is my business going to grow this year:
a) What type of business do I want more of? Less of?
b) Does my pricing structure need adjusting?
c) How can I better use my time to target the desired type of growth?
d) What key service do we want to add to our arsenal?
e) What’s dragging us down and how do we jettison it?
f) WHO WILL MY KEY PARTNERS BE IN 2011?
2. How will we get our message in front of the right people?
a) Of course, since we are a marketing company we think about this for our clients everyday; we need to regularly think about it for ourselves.

Of course it’s easy to look out the window at a beautiful blizzard or ocean view and think of all of the fun things I could be doing right now, but for me The Big Stuff = the meaningful stuff, and is the most fulfilling work I do all year. This week while the world is quiet I get a lot of Big Stuff done.

You Must Be A Leader

If you are going to run your own company it may seem obvious that you need some leadership qualities; this does not mean that you are the loudest or most assertive. Taking the huge leap of faith in yourself to start your own business means that, at your core, you have leadership qualities for certain. Not every leader wants to work for themselves, and not every business owner is a leader.

So what is Leadership? I am not an expert, but since I’ve since spent my life in Sales I can tell you that NOTHING gets sold without team work. Whether it’s your chain of Suppliers, your Sales Team, the Creatives or the Programmers/Manufacturers, in business, no wo/man is an island. I can guarantee you cannot be tremendously successful without a team, and Leadership is vital if you are going to get that team to work smoothly and effectively. So how do you lead people is the question? The answer is probably a lot more nuanced than you might expect.

I’m currently immersed in Creative Energy Options’ Total Leadership Connections where one of the foundations of the program is “…extraordinary leadership begins with the understanding that you are an integral part of a system – a continuum of connectedness.” What that means to me is that you can’t lead your team in any form if you don’t understand how inherently interconnected you are to each individual on that team. Understanding that concept alone will effect the way you treat the players on your team.

If you delve deeper and start to understand the patterns in your own behavior, and perhaps even the patterns in your teammate’s behavior, windows of opportunity will fly open. Of course leadership takes many forms in today’s business world, and there is not one formula for success. But contemplating what leadership is and understanding how your behavior effects the players on your team will take you a long way to becoming an effective and successful worker and person.