Successful Selling

In a recent visit to Tallahassee, FL, I spoke with my Dad about how he’s been able to reverse the trend of higher vacancy rates for the rental properties he owns.

About 3 years ago, my father hired a rental management company to rent and manage his rental properties. At that time, his average vacancy rates were less than 5%.  After about two years his vacancies shot up to 15%-20%!

How did his vacancy rates become so high?  The management companies he hired were order-takers instead of sellers.

The critical difference between my dad’s success renting a house and the management company lack of success boils down to salesmanship.  A salesman, my dad, asks a potential renter what is keeping them from signing the dotted line.  An order-taker doesn’t find out what issues are preventing the sale.

Next time you hear ‘no’ from a prospect, summon your 4-year-old self and ask whySuccessful salesmen understand why prospects think the way they do and offer solutions that render their objections moot.

Happy selling!

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Inclement Weather Marketing

In North Carolina, we tend to get a good snowfall at least once or twice every few years.  These “snow days” can wreak havoc here in the Triangle.  Driving in the snow and ice is not a North Carolinian’s strong suit, so many civic, school, and business organizations close as a safety precaution.

When a snow storm comes, local media is abuzz about it and updates scroll the bottom line of network TV.  Most of these updates are about area closings and openings.  These updates offer a great marketing opportunity for small businesses.

By tapping into the media, businesses can gain exposure by sharing updates about their office hours.  The result – free brand impressions on network TV (this year these updates were paired with ACC basketball games, broadcasts drawing a huge number of viewers in North Carolina).

The next time snow or ice is closing down offices in your area, seize the opportunity to share your business’ schedule with local viewers glued to the TV while the snow falls down.  This tactic takes little time to deploy and reminding local viewers about your business without having to run an expensive advertisement is sweet!  Even sweeter, if you don’t need to close you can still gain exposure by reporting your regular closing or opening times.

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Super Bowl Event Marketing

It’s Super Bowl Sunday!!  A time when advertising comes into focus.  This year, however, I’m thinking less about the commercials and more about event marketing around Super Bowl XLIV.

There are opportunities for your business to piggyback on the excitement of a big event.  DirectTV has implemented a well-timed marketing tactic by setting up tables in Sam’s Club and offering a SuperBowl promotion.  This is a great strategy for DirectTV!  Football fans, one of the drivers behind HDTV adoption, often consider upgrading their TV sets before the SuperBowl and DirectTV can sweeten their purchase by offering attractive HD sports packages.

Shopping for new TVs is one side-effect of the SuperBowl, and there are certainly others.  Let’s consider food consumed on Super Bowl Sunday. Hot wings, pizza, chips, dips, and beer are foods that come to my mind.

If you’re a chicken wing supplier, demand leading up to the SuperBowl is bound to rise.  Chicken wing suppliers and distributors can raise their prices and enjoy better margins than other times of the year.  If you run a hotel in Miami, host of Super Bowl XLIV, demand for hotel rooms and other entertainment venues will be high too.  Plan accordingly.

My advice, think about upcoming events in your area and implement aligned event marketing tactics to capitalize on the event’s excitement.

What event marketing tactics have been effective for your business?

Transparency in Your Business

P&G’s recent backlash for shipping a “new and improved” version of Pampers diapers in old packaging is a lesson proving the value in coporate transparency.   Social media has amplified customer’s voice, which can spread rapidly over social networks.  In this case, upset Pamper customers have put P&G’s new brand in jeopardy before it has even officially launched.

It goes without saying that P&G didn’t handle this product introduction very well.  They’ve also struggled to respond to their critics in an effective manner (read: using social media platforms to inform and respond to buyers of Pamper diapers).  However, injecting transparency in your company is not only important for preventing similar failures, but it is also important for establishing an authentic voice in your business.

Achieving transparency is easier said than done.  Organizations need to give their clients insight to their company, products and services without giving up too much competitive intelligence.  Ultimately, transparency breeds an authentic company.  Customers gravitate towards authenticity and your long-term business will benefit by having more connected customers.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and share the type of information that could provide value in their life. Find an authentic voice that connects you (and builds a valued relationship) with your customer.

Differentiating With Customer Service

As more products essentially become commodities, service has become a viable means for increasing revenue and profit margins for companies in these industries. Use a service strategy to your advantage.

Big companies often struggle to develop great relationships with their customers.  Too many levels of authority, employees unauthorized to make decisions, arbitrary policies preventing customer-facing employees from advocating for the customer, and limited access to direct customer feedback often handcuff the big guys from delivering great service and developing good relationships with their customers.

This spells opportunity for agile companies!

One of the reasons I enjoy working with small companies is knowing exactly who stands behind the company and its policies.  This tends to build a more responsive organization and it’s good marketing.  If your a small business, use your size to your advantage.  Develop relationships with your customers and provide the best service possible.  Develop a culture for customer service through training and service programs that empower your employees.

Great customer service can differentiate your business from others and improve your bottom line.  Embrace a culture of customer service and develop relationships with clients that make them want to be your customer for life.

Looking Back and Looking Forward

In review of 2008, I thought Twitter had already arrived.  In reflecting back on 2009, I didn’t expect Twitter to continue to grow with such fervor in 2009, but then again I never expected Oprah to jump on board either.  I don’t know if Twitter will maintain it’s growth, but I can emphatically say that micro-blogging is here to stay.

As social media and mobile continued to evolve (FourSquare) in 2009, 2010 has changed the talk from should we embrace to new communication tools to how we can deploy them for enterprise.  App development is moving full steam ahead and useful ones like Evernote and Jott are sure to provide more value to businesses and consumers alike.

Many analyts think 2010 will be the Year of Social ROI.  I’ve been working on metrics and analytics this past year and with the belt-straps becoming tighter at companies, ROI is becoming more directly embedded in marketing decisions.  This is good news for data junkies as they will be in high demand.  In reality though, there is more to social media than a simple dollar value return. Customer service, branding, product development and other functions within a company will find more value in social media as it matures.

Transparency will also continue to be crucial for successful social media programs but many bigger companies continue to struggle with this.  Between layers of bureaucracy and legal approval, use of social media has been watered down to say the least.  This year, I expect more companies to adopt social media policies that give corporations a more authentic voice.  Common sense prevails, hurray!

I’m excited about 2010.  We are still in the infancy of digital marketing and new ways of communicating are sure to provide great opportunities for entrepreneurs and marketers.

Bobby Bowden Management

Bobby BowdenAs a native of Tallahassee, FL, I am of course a huge Florida State football fan.  With Bobby Bowden coaching his last game this week I’ve been thinking about what made him so successful.  For the uninitiated, Bowden oversaw one of the greatest runs in college football history.  From 1987 to 2000, 14 straight years, FSU finished in the top five of the AP college football poll.

How did Bobby Bowden do it?
I posit his ability to recruit the best players coupled with his delegating management style gave him the winning edge to build the Seminole dynasty from the ground up.

A media darling and adept recruiter, Bowden quickly learned that delegating responsibilities to assistant coaches allowed his program to flourish.  And with Bowden’s delegating management style in effect he was afforded additional time to focus on what he does best – recruit the best players. During Florida State’s 14-year winning streak his staff held tight and the rest is history.

As an entrepreneur, it’s often difficult to relinquish control and let those you hire to do their work without micromanaging them.  Avoid this by hiring employees that are smarter than you, giving them the reins to succeed and holding them accountable if they fall short. Hiring the best employees is difficult, but crucial to your long-term success.

And Bobby would agree having said, “He who gets the best players usually wins.”  And Bobby Bowden usually did just that.

People and Systems

While startups are constantly creating and tweaking their systems and processes within their own organization, most larger organizations are entrenched with them.  Whether you operate within a large company or you are selling to them, learning about the people who influence/make decisions and understanding how to address the constraints the systems and processes of their organization place on them is crucial to a successful selling process.

In simplistic terms, there are two buckets you need to become more familiar with, people and systems.

  • People address: hierarchy, influence, decision making, early adopters, and subject matter experts.
  • Systems address: hardware, software, procedures, and necessary steps to get sign-off for sales.

Together, these buckets help you identify the who and how to move your agenda forward.  Perhaps even more importantly, if you understand an organization’s people and systems and you can develop a sales map that will identify potential roadblocks and lead you to replicable workarounds resulting in a more efficient sales process.

Plus, you can incorporate common findings from the sales mapping process into your product and service offerings to better serve your customer’s needs.  Now that’s a win if I’ve ever heard one.  I’d recommend you learn the people and systems in your product and sales process landscape to improve your hit rate and reduce your sales cycle time line.

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So What?

A simple question yielding powerful results.  The question “so what?” can reveal what really matters to your target audience – the benefit.

So you have a flashy new web app that can refresh logos – so what? A feature you just launched will be useful for clients making up less than 20 percent of your revenues – so what?  Your company has assembled the most experienced team in your industry – so what?

These features are meaningless to your audience without a benefit.  Asking the question “so what?” helps you get to benefit for your customers.  It gets to your customer’s “what’s in it for me?, ” and “why should I pick your product or service instead of the alternative?” thoughts in their minds.

For example, the benefit of employing the most experienced team is better illustrated in your customers’ eyes by explaining how an experienced team will help clients avoid costly pitfalls and speed the launch of important projects.  The “so what?” line of questioning forces you to speak in client-benefit language and cut out insular feature-laden language.

Determining the benefit statement you craft for your clients and prospects takes time and often probing conversations with your customers. It can be challenging to identify something unique and compelling. However, after a few iterations of truly identifying the answers to “so what?” your message can be effectively molded into benefits that are music to your customers ears.

So, the next time you think you have the answer, take a step back and ask the “so what?” question.  Be sure you are answering the right question and speaking to the benefits your audience needs to hear.  Now all you need is for your customers to listen to your song.

Seek Market Fit, Not Branding

For entrepreneurs, finding the right fit in the market for your startup is essential. Before ramping up marketing programs, assess your fit in the market so marketing dollars aren’t wasted on premature campaigns.  Without the right market fit, no amount of branding will overcome a misaligned offering.

Forget branding and develop a focused product or service that your customers can’t live without.  This is not to say you shouldn’t have a positioning statement for your company.  A positioning statement helps identify, create, and capture markets.  Avoid branding until your market fit is established.

Once you’ve placed your stake in the ground and the majority of your customers say they couldn’t imagine doing business without your product, you’ve found your market fit, and an enviable one at that.  From here, ramp up your branding efforts to build loyalty, create barriers to entry and grow your business!

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