Tag Archives: 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.

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.

Avoid Enemies of Change

Companies that spot trends early on and get transform their business focus at the right time are in the minority.  Why do some companies have blinders on when accessing trends?  A company’s very success is often what holds them back from seizing opportunities.  The mindset of leaders is crucial to combating this enemy of change.

We tend to be creatures of our past; our experience shapes what we believe and our perception of reality.  In sum, everyone is biased.  Our history and success are strong sources of our bias.  What often sets good leaders apart from leaders who miss opportunities is colored vision.  Good leaders see beyond their bias and spot trends that may be disparate from their past experience.

Automatically assuming something based on bias can handcuff you from changing direction to capitalize on a fruitful opportunity.  To combat bias and gain clarity, I recommend organizations use numbers and metrics to quantify trends and dispel bias that doesn’t mesh with the trends.

Avoid the enemies of change. Put your history and success in your back pocket while assessing your reality.  Use an unbiased view to ensure you can see trends as they really are and find opportunities that you may have missed before.

Dream Big, Narrow Your Focus

I dream big.  I also know that focusing on the key customer-driven components of my business solution and aligning my company’s processes around those elements is the best way to turn my big dreams into a successful business.

In a small business, it’s all too easy to get distracted by potential development opportunities that add breadth to your product or service line.  Don’t fall prey to this lure.  Ensure your success by selling a viable product or service before taking misguided steps that steer your attention away from your company’s mission.

Focus on one specific solution and deliver it better than anyone else.  This will lay the ground work to pursue more intricate business opportunities down the line.  Take a cue from 37Signals build a simple focused product like BaseCamp and parlay that success into other complimentary products that add additional value to your enthusiastic client base.

For entrepreneurs, it’s critical you define and stay focused on what your customer needs are and deliver your solution that is so focused on those needs that your customer’s alternative options become substandard in comparison.

Customer prospecting and marketing research upfront is key to accurately determine whether your solution meets your target market’s needs.  Once these needs are defined and you have your product mission statement, you can focus on developing your core product or service.

For example, let’s say I’m a window washer that’s discovered my customers want eco-friendly washing detergents and fast service. That’s great, but are they actually going to pay money for these proclamations? Be sure your prospect wants, is willing to pay for, and has the ability to purchase your product or solution.

As a window washer, If I find my prospects are more willing to pay for fast service then you better believe every decision I make will be guided by this need for speed, and my marketing efforts will position my services as the speediest window washer in town!

The takeaway from all this is when your starting out, narrow your focus, deliver a solution that meet your paying customers needs and parlay your success into developing complimentary solutions.  Dream big, but stay focused.  Your success awaits!

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Problem Solving With Monet

Our ability to problem solve is often directly correlated with our levels of success. Regardless of what function or role we inhabit, we are constantly bombarded with obstacles that require a measured response.

I prefer to view these problems as opportunities to improve a situation.  As the saying goes, “when life serves you lemons, make lemonade.”

Up close Monet's paints are difficult to make out, but from afar they are a thing of beauty - When analyzing your problem take a step back and to improve your perspective of the problem.

Apply a Monet framework to problem solving. Up close, Monet's paints are difficult to make out; from afar they are a thing of beauty. When analyzing a problem, improve your perspective by taking a step back to understand all of the problem's elements.

To improve your response, approach particularly troublesome problems using a problem-solving framework.  In my framework, I look at the situation like I view Monet paintings – from afar. I assume a third-party perspective that enables me to take a step back and hypothesize all stakeholder points of view.  From this perspective I recommend you:

Define the problem.
What’s causing it? Without knowing what the problem is and what’s causing it, you’ll either be fixing problems that don’t need fixing or not finding the right solution

Understand what you can control.
If you have no control over some aspect of the problem, don’t focus your efforts on solving the problem by trying to change that element.  Think creatively about how you can solve the problem and consider changing directions that circumvent that element entirely.

List you potential solutions.
Come up with potential solutions to fix the cause of your problem or change the landscape entirely.  Improve your creativity by brainstorming ideas with others to develop possible solutions.  Additional perspectives can give you a more complete view of the whole picture.  I also find it helpful to look at other solutions to disparate problems and see if those can be applied to your problem at hand.

Pick the best option and act on it.
Once you settle on the best option for solving the problem you’ve defined, take the steps to carry it out.  You’ll find this process is very rewarding, especially if you start seeing immediate results.  If this solution doesn’t solve your problem. Great! Now you know and you can move back through these steps to see what options you have to approach the problem that exists now.

Move on
Often, I find out problems aren’t as bad as they initially appear.  Problems can be great opportunities to explore new directions in your business.  Hopefully, your problem-solving process will have the results you desire.  Once you decide on a solution to a problem, it is often best to move on and tackle the next problems opportunity that comes your way.  This is particularly true for problems you don’t have any control over.  Don’t waste your time dwelling on what went wrong or why the situation isn’t fair; learn from your missteps and move forward by proactively taking steps to be successful.

Is Apple Evil? – Part One

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

The Apple brand has been racking my brain lately.  With their ongoing battles with Microsoft and others, I’ve been wondering how such a glorified brand is able to maintain their image in light of actions I’d describe as “evil.”  In Part Two of this post I outline why Apple is evil, but first I want tell you about my Apple Store experience last week and share the big news.

Apple has stopped selling it’s category-changing iPhone 3GS.

This past Friday, I took a trip to the Apple Store.  I decided I was going to join the “cool crowd” and get an iPhone 3GS.  I went to the store around 6:30PM and noticed a line outside the door.  I’ve seen this before when Apple releases a new product but this was a different story.  As I peeked inside I saw at most 50 people inside and caught a glimpse of the iPhones I was about to take home with me.  That was until I was stopped at the door by an Apple Store employee.

My conversation with an Apple Specialist (AS) outside the Apple Store

Me: “You guys are pretty busy today.  Huh?”
AS: “Yes.  The weekends can get pretty busy.”

Me: “I’m interested in getting an iPhone 3GS, but have a question. Do I get the AT&T plan when I purchase it here?”
AS: “Great! Yes you can get the AT&T plan with it right here or go online and fill out your info beforehand, I’d recommend doing it online so it’s quicker when you come back.”

Me: “Okay, cool.  I’ve been debating whether to get one, but I’m ready to take the plunge.  Can I buy an iPhone now?”
AS: “No. We aren’t selling the iPhone anymore today.”

Me: (Hmm) “Okay.  Are you out of stock or something, I think I want a white one.”
AS: (Interrupting me mid-sentence) “No.  We have every iPhone in stock. We just aren’t selling the iPhone at this Store location anymore.”

Me: “What?  You have the iPhone I want(I point inside the store to it), but I can’t buy it?”
AS: “No.  Sorry, we are only selling computers now, this line is for people buying computers.”

Me: “So how can I get the iPhone?”
AS: “You can come by tomorrow.  Just make sure you get here early enough so we can sell it to you.”

Me: “What? Are you sure I can’t buy it now?…  I have legal tender.”
AS: “No.  Sorry, just come back tomorrow and we’ll hook you up.”

Me: “Okay.” (Somewhat perturbed)
AS: “Have a good day.”

Me: (Walking away dejected, and talking to myself) “It’d be a lot nicer if you could sell me a freakin’ iPhone.  What the heck just happened??”

This past Friday was particularly busy retail day in North Carolina because it was a tax-free weekend.  In light of that, Apple made the decision to only sell their presumably higher margin computers, which from a bottom line business perspective makes sense, but from a customer service perspective stinks!  If I had traveled much farther than 15 minutes and was turned away, I would have been pretty mad.  If I driven an hour or more to the Apple Store to buy an iPhone and was turned away in this manner, I would be livid and likely considered boycotting the Apple brand.

Needless to say, the Palm Pre is looking much more attractive now.  Despite my bad experience,  I’ll be back to the Apple Store this week to see if Apple will actually sell me the iPhone this go around.  I’ll let you know how it goes and ask you to weigh in on whether Apple is evil.  Stay tuned, Part Two  of “Is Apple Evil?” should be up later this week.

UPDATE:  My second attempt to buy an iPhone was unsuccessful.  After failing to port my number, the Apple Store told me my number wasn’t eligible for porting; said I should to try to buy an iPhone at an corporate AT&T store, but implied it might not work there either due to porting rules.

My third attempt was successful!  AT&T ported my number in a snap and transferred my contacts from my Treo 755P to my new iPhone 3GS (something the Apple Store apparently can’t do).  I’m in business and enjoying the WordPress for iPhone app for this post. Hoorah!!

What do you think?  Should Apple have turned me away without an iPhone 3GS in hand?

Influencer Marketing for B2B Sales

Influence is one of the most powerful psychological drivers in sales and in belt-tightening times like these, influencer marketing is one of the most cost efficient ways to promote your business.  While this type of marketing has often been employed in the B2C space, opportunity abounds in the B2B space.

Influencer marketing, one of a dozen types of word of mouth marketing,  is an especially effective tactic in driving B2B sales.  To better understand what influencer marketing is all about, let’s define the players.

Effective influencer marketing is composed of three components:  the influencer, the follower, the business solution.

  1. Influencer – An influencer would be someone whose ability to motivate, change views, shift over from the status quo through their energy and passion and helpful knowledge over time.
  2. Followers – These people seek out the advice of the said ‘influencer‘ and will often listen and employ the advice to the extent they can implement it.
  3. Business Solution – While not directly linked to influencer marketing, the business solution is the most critical of the three parts of the influence puzzle.  Your solution needs to be relevant, meet the high standards of the influencer that share it with their followers, and be easy t0 understand (read: if an influencer can’t figure out why they or their community of followers should be interested in your product then you can bet they won’t give it the right type of influence to help it grow!).

Whether a follower of a influential person moves to take action on a product or service depends on the level of authority the influencer possesses.  Popular bloggers are very good at promoting their authority by developing thought leadership with their blog posts.

However, not all business influencers are created equally.  Selecting influencers that are best equipped to reach and influence your target audience will be a key component in your influencer marketing strategy.  To get started:

  1. Make a list of bloggers/writers/influencers who appear to reach your market.
  2. Assess their market reach by estimating their number of connections.
  3. Determine their though leadership (Do their followers hold the influencer’s opinion in high esteem?)
  4. Check their followers for the decision makers of your target market (LinkedIn is great for this).
  5. Rank your influencers according to their market reach, thought leadership, and ties to your target audience

Once you have your ranked list, I’d start connecting with a few who aren’t crucial to your influencer marketing success.  Incorporate your learnings from those approaches and craft a winning strategy for reaching out to the higher-ranked influencers who influence potential buyers in your product or services’ sweet spot.

When done right, influencer marketing is an effective and economical way to increase sales for your business.  If you can identify the right influencers, know your target customers (followers), and have a business solution worth talking about then influencer marketing needs to be included in your marketing mix.

Have you employed the power of influence in your marketing strategy?

Network to Give in Order to Get

Effectively networking has many benefits.  Ostensibly meeting new people, learning something new, marketing your company and potentially earning more business from referrals are excellent reasons to attend a networking event.  It’d be great if all you had to do was show up and everyone would be interested in you and your business, but the reality is most in attendance will be thinking about their own interests.

The Used Car Salesman
Image by TexasEagle via Flickr

When you attend an event, differentiate your own brand from what I’ll call the used car salesman crowd that primarily networks to “get.”  You know the type, the ones who only seem interested in selling you on something that is hardly related to anything you need or the topic at hand.  Don’t be like that.  Instead, learn as much as you can about the people you meet and the pains that they are trying to solve.  If you can alleviate their pain in someway, whether it’s related to your business or otherwise, make an effort to help them and distinguish yourself from the crowd.

By providing value and thinking in terms of the wants and needs of others, or in other words networking to give, you’ll be building a following of people who will want to help you out.  Building relationships requires effort, and some of your efforts may not pan out.  But if you put forth the effort, you’ll find that networking may be an extremely effective way to grow your business.

You may not be rewarded immediately, but the relationships you invest in now should pay off in a big way through future business, introductions, word-of-mouth, or knowledge you gain to solve pains in your own business.  At the very least you’ll learn something from the experience and if you are truly able to help, your efforts will be intrinsically rewarded.

So what are you going to do?  Network to get or network to give?  The next time you attend an event, network to give and see how much more fruitful and rewarding the experience can be.

Have a networking experience you’d like to share?  Leave your comment below.

Why Sharing Your Startup Idea Improves Chances for Success

Do you have a business idea you are keeping close to the vest?

Well,  DON’T DO THAT!!!  SHARE YOUR IDEAS!!!

That’s right, don’t keep your startup ideas under lock and key.  Share them, give them air to breathe and marinate with helpful feedback from colleagues and potential customers so they can coalesce into even better ideas.

Of course there are exceptions to when you should tell the whole world your idea, but time and time again I’ve learned that sharing your idea will improve your chances for success.

Fear Not – Get a Leg up on the Competition

Some ideas are kept close to the vest because of the fear that someone else will steal it.  The thought of this happening is understandable with truly original ideas, but ultimately very few who hear your concept will have the right skill set, resources, or time in their life to transform it into a business.

(Source: Caledon Today)

(Source: Caledon Today)

Fear not, ideas are the easy part.  The execution of your idea is what really matters.  By sharing your idea, you can improve your execution by better identifying the needs of potential customers and learning things you can use to build a first-mover advantage.

Accountability

As you share idea, chances are you’ll be more committed to making it happen.  Not only are you likely to be more accountable to yourself to see your idea through, but you’ll also feel more accountable to those who’ve helped you along the way.

Connections

Not only does sharing your idea give you valuable feedback, but it can also get you in touch with the right people and expertise to catapult your startup idea into reality.  Find a connector, someone who knows the movers and shakers in your idea’s industry and put out a call for help.

The connections you make will arm you with good advice from the right people, people who understand the industry your concept serves.

Reality Check Feedback

Does your idea have legs?  If your friends are supportive and friendly, then they will probably tell you what you want to hear, i.e. “Your idea is GREAT!,” so tread carefully.

Seek out advise from people who won’t butter you and your idea up too much.  Also, listen for what they aren’t saying to ascertain its potential pitfalls.  Identify what your concept lacks and why it won’t work.  Better yet, ask yourself and everyone else these two questions.

What is this idea missing?  Why won’t this concept work?

These simple questions will force people to give your idea a true reality check so you can address any outstanding issues well before you head down the wrong track.  This exercise will do wonders for the strategic development of your concept.

If you get a lot of criticism, don’t get discouraged.  Embrace criticism and address it head on.  Your idea can be molded to solve that obstacle or be adjusted to flourish in another niche that is more appropriate.  See where your idea fails and how to overcome those potential failures and you’ll have yourself an idea that is more valuable than before!

Does Startup Success Await?

Can your idea be carried out?  Sometimes we underestimate what it really takes to take an idea from concept to reality.  However, if the feasibility of an idea can be reasonably established, a plan can be hatched to bring it to fruition.

Take what you learn from your connections and reality check to help you determine whether to proceed.

If you decide to move forward, fear not – the connections you’ve built, the learnings you’ve gathered from your reality check and the aforementioned feasibility feedback will equip you with the information and tools you need to get your startup idea off the ground.  Then comes the hard part, executing your idea into a successful business.

The important thing is to act!  While others have ideas that are dying in isolation, you’ll be on your way to learning what you need to know to succeed.

Have an idea you’ve been keeping to yourself?  Feel free to share it with me and I’ll give give you my initial feedback and help put you in touch with connections that can help your startup succeed.