Archive for Sales

Social media never disappears

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Willful ignorance doesn’t help your cause

Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media outlets have become the predominant way of communicating and establishing commercial and personal brands.

Wearing my hat, for example, exposes me to a targeted audience. Blasting its image via six social media accounts increases my visibility exponentially.

However, once something’s published online it’s impossible to erase. So I’m VERY careful what I publish so it doesn’t come back to haunt me later.

Consider this recent item on LinkedIn:

“Damn…the NFL been around longer than our government. We’ve had 50 Super Bowls and only 45 presidents. I didn’t know that.”

She wasn’t kidding!

Her millennial friends agreed with her, while others provided unsuccessful civics lessons.

Logically, someday this woman will want a job. Potential employers will GOOGLE her name and discover today’s conversation.

Meaning today’s willful ignorance could easily endanger tomorrow’s opportunity.

This judgmental attitude isn’t just mine. Business owners following the feed said “WOW!!!”; “The scariest thing is…they vote.”; and “Your education is what you make it, Princess.”

This subject’s appropriateness for business-oriented LinkedIn also raised temperatures. One executive observed “Actually it’s perfect…helps with candidate vetting.”

Here’s reality for you: Anonymity no longer exists in today’s world.

Meaning if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Whether you’re branding a business, non-profit, or yourself, be sure your marketing plan includes a healthy dose of social media.

But remember potential bosses, clients and partners will not only examine your recent postings, but everything you’ve ever written.

And those lurid pictures of you getting drunk, while funny now, will haunt you in 20 years with questions about your character, judgment, and intelligence.

So some unrequested advice for my young friend on LinkedIn: Poor communication skills don’t bode well for being able to market yourself in the future.

Because even though Millennials grew up comfortably sharing their every move with the world at-large, with many not recognizing the importance of privacy, their bosses probably feel differently.

There are six generations sharing the workplace today, and older generations control much of the employment and financing opportunities.

Their discomfort with a “Let it all hang out” attitude may encourage them to penalize anyone unable or unwilling to be “professional.”

It isn’t necessarily fair. But as a business owner, I know it’s a realistic view of today’s world.

Delivering Savings Until Closing Time Today

A man walks into the post office…WONDERUSPS2

Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, doesn’t it?

But there I was waiting to buy postage and I discovered a coupon jointly issued by Hallmark and the U.S. Postal Service.

In truth I shouldn’t have been surprised. For the past few years the Postal Service has been getting increasingly commercial in an effort to overcome an annual $5 billion deficit. And because the USPS is a quasi-governmental agency receiving zero tax dollars, that money obviously has to come from someplace.

So, a few years back they started selling ancillary items like packing supplies and greeting cards.

Then they struck deals to feature animated characters on postage stamps, including Bambi, Big Bird and Daffy Duck.

Today, stamps featuring Wonder Woman can be affixed to Snoopy greeting cards, both purchased at the postal counter.

The tie-in between postage stamps and Hallmark greeting cards is a logical one.

Post offices have a built-in customer traffic flow. Most cards get mailed and need stamps.

What better place to tie the stamps, card, and customers together than there?

Furthermore, free email graphics have been the source of headaches for Hallmark executives for a long time.

If they can sell more cards and pay the USPS a sales commission, everyone wins, right?

Their plan is obvious;

  • Customer chooses a card from the multiple displays in the postal store lobby;
  • Coupon offers $1 off 3 cards if purchased before Feb. 17, 2017 (That’s TODAY, in case you hadn’t noticed!);
  • Customer buys two additional cards and stamps for mailing them

The promotion’s demise date screams “Valentine’s Day,” though any cards sold there qualify for the discount.

Now let’s examine your business. Odds are good there’s a potential partner for you, regardless of what you sell.

Car dealerships can join forces with area gas stations. Bakeries can work with exercise studios, which, in turn, can partner with beverage companies.

The USPS isn’t collecting buyers’ contact information, but there’s no reason you can’t. A list of buyers is incredibly valuable, since:

  • They like what you and your partner sell
  • You have an established relationship
  • They’re likely to buy from you again

Partnerships must be carefully thought out and planned, but can be very successful if done right. Learn from the USPS and develop one today.

How much would you charge?

breakfast sandwichI just flew in from Sacramento, and BOY are my arms tired!

Sorry…I’ve always wanted to say that.

At the airport my bride purchased a “substandard” bagel and “okay” coffee for $6.04. The same counter was selling breakfast sandwiches for $11.

Realizing I’m in the wrong business, I pondered how anyone has the nerve to charge such exorbitant prices.

First thought: Greed. Airport dining options are limited and most vacationers, feeling expansive, don’t bring their own food.

Plus with millions of guaranteed customers, a “Take it or leave it” attitude is almost understandable.

Especially since airport meals typically fade from memory before the next suitcase is packed.

Then I considered my neighborhood’s gas stations. One at the freeway entrance consistently charges 80 cents more per gallon than the place across the street lacking ramp access.

Given the minor differences from one brand of gasoline to another, the price differential must be caused by the convenience factor; the station’s location.

Economics 101 dictates something is worth only what customers believe its value to be.

A bottle of cold water selling for 25 cents at Costco is worth $3 when sold on a hot day inside a football stadium. Customers willingly throw money for the same item due to its increased perceived value.

Meaning we’re witnessing the law of supply and demand in action. The gas stations, airport restaurants, and water vendors are all charging as much as their particular customers are willing to pay.

You too should be looking to bestow some form of additional perceived value on your business. Like the airport, gas station, and football stadium, you may have location as an advantage.

Carrying hard-to-find products, providing amazing service, or making something of significantly higher quality than the competition also helps.

Or just making the experience more pleasant than the competition does might make the difference.

Greeting customers with a cheery “Hello friends!” and playing classical background music for those enjoying a morning cup of coffee, for example.

Of course, the answer to business success changes based on industry, geography, customer demographics, and your definition of success.

But if you can find that one thing that makes both you and your customers happy, you may suddenly find you’ve become quite popular.

Right this way, Mr. Squinty

In September I found myself at a branch of my bank awaiting a receipt. My sd-sdreyer-1485458125-snap-phototime was spent perusing brochures, people-watching, and staring into space. Then the monitor behind the counter caught my eye.

As a marketing professional I’m naturally curious about every company’s messaging. So I watched their video presentation. Twice.

Finally I realized the problem. “The picture’s fuzzy,” I told the teller, who smiled noncommittally.

Last week I visited another branch of the same bank and determined the problem wasn’t my eyes, but the presentation itself.

This time the teller acknowledged the issue. “We said something to headquarters weeks ago and they promised they’d fix it,” she said.

Yet here we are, months later, and the problem persists.

When I started in business, my father advised me to be sensitive to customers’ needs. “People’s eyes start playing tricks on them around age 40,” he warned.

Truer words were never spoken! Shortly after I hit 40 my eyes started acting up, and they’ve only gotten worse with age.

So here I was observing a marketing presentation that was unfocused and giving me a headache.

And the bank’s marketing department apparently wasn’t very concerned about it.

Meaning the message meant to reinforce my warm fuzzy feelings for this bank instead irritated me.

Counter-productive? You bet!

Even if the bank eventually gets its act together, it’ll be quite a while before I’m watching that video again.

Translation: beyond the annoyance factor, they’ve lost a very visible, very cost-effective tool for communicating with me.

And a measure of good will has also been lost because they didn’t pay attention to my needs.

Now let’s consider your business. Do you:

• Know your customer’s profile and their preferred ways of being communicated with?

• Understand their needs to ensure they receive your message?

• Listen to your staff when they tell you there’s a marketing issue requiring attention?

Admittedly I’m not so annoyed that I’m moving my business elsewhere…yet.

Still, I’m now wondering which other concerns of mine they’re ignoring.

And should the competition hit me with the right offer, benefits, and messaging on the right day, I might be persuaded to switch.

All because some faceless person didn’t take the time to ensure quality control at the point of sale.

Selling with a smile

Successful salespeople looking to immediately develop customer rapport know smiling-thumbs-upthe importance of a smile.

A smile is a universal indicator of openness, friendliness, relaxation, and likeability. It’s a powerful asset for salespeople looking to build long-term client relationships.

Consider a job interview I once screwed up.

It was about 20 years ago in Boston, and I was perfect for the position. We went through the interview process and I met six or seven people with whom I’d be working. Everything was lining up in my favor.

After the meeting I wandered over to Quincy Market for lunch. Lost in thought, I didn’t pay much attention to the fellow in the suit giving me the once-over.

Not recognizing him as an executive who’d wandered through the meeting I just completed, I gave him a sour look.

It all went south from there, and I never heard from them again.

In hindsight, looking pleasant, or at least neutral, would have undoubtedly been more profitable. Live and learn, right?

Smiling’s value can’t be underestimated. It can easily make the difference between whether or not you walk out with a signed contract in your pocket.

Ask yourself if you smile:

  1. While talking about your company
  2. On phone calls when the other person can’t see you
  3. During public speaking engagements
  4. During video-conference calls
  5. In your professional headshot

People will quickly spot fake smiles, so sincerity’s important for a smile to be an effective tool.

Okay, it’s true that many sales professionals have a naturally upbeat personality, smiling frequently throughout the day and during interactions with customers and prospects.

Interestingly, this simple act also happens to be one of the most effective ways to cut through adverse situations, conflicts, and disappointment. If you’ve just been told no or a deal has fallen through, a smile is your first defense against negativity.

Indeed, many studies show that smiling attracts people because it projects positivity.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow astutely observed; “Into each life some rain must fall,” but a smile is the best defense. Even if you’re talking with people who don’t have time or money or don’t want to listen to you, smile anyway. It keeps you in control of your life, your emotions, and your selling process.

Hey…Where’d You Go?

column-movedSometimes my dog gets lonely. He’s 12 and set in his ways.

This is challenging on days when I’m out for the entire day.

Enter doggy daycare (yes, there is such a thing), where he spends his time with a pack of 80 furry knuckleheads.

He’s happy and safe there, meaning I can tend to business.

So imagine my surprise when I drove up last week to find the daycare facility had vanished. A crew was overhauling the building for a new tenant. A small sign directed me to a location two miles away where the daycare providers had moved to.

The new location was buried at the far end of a long parking lot. Though I eventually found it, my unanticipated detour forced a 15-minute delay for a client meeting.

The facility no doubt updated their Facebook page with their new address…only I rarely visit that page.

So how was I to know they’d moved? And how difficult would it have been for the daycare staff to send me an email with this news?

A bizarre concept, right? You’re changing location and tell people where to find you so they can continue doing business with you.

Failing to tell anyone (with the possible exception of those on-site the week of the move) guarantees these guys will lose business.

At some point that new tenant will move into the old location and the signage pointing to the new daycare facility will disappear.

When that happens, anyone visiting the old location will probably assume the daycare facility is defunct and find a new service provider.

Every business has a house list of current, past, and prospective customers. Over 30 years I’ve learned the most profitable organizations regularly communicate with everyone on that list.

Communications (newsletters, promotions, emails, texts, calls, postcards, etc.) should vary by audience.

Because whether you’re sharing buying opportunities, factoids, stories, or case histories, customers must be reminded why they need to have you in their lives.

Recognizing that out of sight is out of mind, regular customer outreach ensures customers think of you often and remember to buy from you.

Regular customer contact will grow your business over time, as well as helping you to weather disruptions like moving the business to a new location.

Giving Away Customers

Confession time: I’m not always the biggest fan of the Postal Service.

In this column I’ve previously suggested they cut Saturday delivery and establish coffee kiosks in their lobbies.

They responded by selling Bugs Bunny stamps and greeting cards.

Hardly a novel approach to improving revenues.

Still, I’ve continued renting my PO Box, finding it economical and always accessible.

No longer. Mailbox lobby hours will soon stop at 8pm, removing my ability to retrieve my mail at odd hours.

Increasingly, small business owners want the appearance of an office, even as they work from home.

This means having an outside address where packages and checks can be delivered at the same time the boss is out hustling new opportunities.

Suggesting RB’s Postmaster would be wise to remember these people have options beyond the USPS.

100 yards from the Post Office is the new UPS Store. It offers a real street address with mailbox rental and 24-hour access.

It’s called competition…a sometimes alien concept to those who haven’t run their own firm.

Admittedly, UPS is selling more service for a slightly higher price, but many people will happily pay for the convenience of late mail pickup.

And what boggles my mind is that the USPS is willingly giving away their customers.

My suspicion is the revenue they’ll lose will dwarf whatever they save on electricity during those off-hours.

Now let’s look at your business. Whatever you’re selling, someone, somewhere is selling it faster, cheaper, or with better service. It’s inevitable.

Meaning if you can’t persuade customers you’re the preferred choice, you’ll lose that business.

Certainly, some customers will prefer you merely because you offer the lowest price. However, these same customers can be stolen by someone else offering a $2 discount.

To improve customer loyalty while making a fair profit, offer better service than the other guy and charge a bit more to cover that extra service.

In these days of self-help and automation, the missing ingredient is typically a smiling welcome and a “How can I help you?”

And human interaction with someone willing and capable of resolving customer issues will never go out of style. Just remember how you like being treated.

It’s something to consider as you plan your business growth strategy for next year.

Getting more organized

Every morning I watch a young man run down the street to catch the school column-getting-organizedbus.

His disorganization is reflected in his unruly hair, untied shoes, and (I suspect) unfinished homework.

In my mind I’m telling him if he awoke five minutes earlier he wouldn’t struggle so to reach his goals. Simple advance planning, like preparing his clothes the night before, making his lunch in advance, or watching less TV at night might go a long way towards his day-to-day success.

Naturally, in real life I keep my big mouth shut.

The business world isn’t much different, though. Business owners want to reach their objectives, have too many distractions, and are almost always running like the proverbial chicken without a head and lacking adequate planning.

When such a business owner becomes my client I speak up, knowing that a few minor changes and thinking things through can typically make them more profitable, more efficient, and less stressed. When things are calm, making the effort to understand their goals, schedule milestones, and stick to a budget all but guarantees greater success.

At least initially they typically don’t “get it” any more than my young neighbor does.

But what about your business? It can probably be run better by honestly answering these simple questions:

*            What’s your objective?

*            Who’s the audience?

*            What resources will realistically be invested?

*            Why should I buy from you (i.e. what’s unique about you?)

Easy, right? Addressing these issues with a clear head lets you answer matters like who’s doing each job. Owners truly interested in success (as opposed to just getting a paycheck) also ask themselves why they’re in their particular business.

Those who have a sincere passion for what they do are much more likely to share that energy with their clientele. Clients sensing greater enthusiasm will gravitate to that added excitement level.

Meaning if your competition is zealous about working with your customers and you’re not, guess who’s going to land more of the business?

This isn’t rocket science! But thinking these things through helps formalize a company philosophy which, in turn, informs your messaging.

Good messaging equals better sales, allowing you to relax at night as your business grows.

Just remember to lay out your clothes for tomorrow.

Say the Secret Word

grouchoOn his 1950s game show You Bet Your Life, Groucho Marx used to reward contestants who guessed the secret word of the day.

And though the words have changed, contestants in today’s business world are also rewarded when they determine their secret word.

Consider LA’s Magic Castle, where the secret word is exclusivity.

Behind these walls, patrons are entertained by the finest magicians in the world.

Seriously, this isn’t Harry Potter.

In the Hollywood Hills sits the equivalent of Broadway for the Merlin set. There you’ll find virtuoso magicians perfecting their craft and their patter, and experience prestidigitation sure to confound even the most careful observer.

It’s an experience unlike any other.

Entry into this private club is by invitation only. Jacket and tie are required, and the atmosphere is decidedly upscale.

We visited the club Friday night and left there sated by fine food and intelligent conversation.

We remain totally confounded about how that lemon got into that empty cup not 12 inches from my nose.

Joining the club costs $5,000 and involves jumping through hoops. Despite that, they have a waiting list a mile long.

Consider that: their reputation for rarified air combines with high prices…and more people want to buy their offerings.

Now consider the Rolls Royce: Handmade, limited quantities, negligible recalls…and VERY desirable.

Are you seeing a pattern?

Now examine your business. Regardless of what you sell, you can benefit from an image of exclusivity.

After all, if customers see your offerings as a commodity, you’ll find yourself in a race to the bottom. Price alone will determine whether you make the sale, since people can probably buy what you sell for less down the street.
And don’t kid yourself; many customers WILL go down the street to save $2.Or they’ll come to your store with their questions, then make their purchases online. Sometimes they’ll shop online while in your store.

However, if the public recognizes they can’t get your offerings anyplace else, several things happen:

•    You eliminate competition

•    You become more desirable

•    You can raise prices

Face it: if you’ve got the only lemonade stand in town on a hot day you’re going to get lots of business, even if you charge extra.

Making your business’ secret word “Lucrative.”

Got Original Ideas?

got-milkThis morning I drove past a truck that said “Got Tinting?” promoting a car window service.

Then there was a car saying “Got Cloud?” for computer storage.

In the afternoon I saw a shirt reading “Got Mary?” touting a church.

Tonight I saw “Got Debt?” campaign ads.

My question: Got Original Ideas?

These messages all reference a 1993 TV ad for California’s Milk Processor Board.

In it, a hapless history buff eating a peanut butter sandwich is called in a radio station contest to identify who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel.

He correctly answers “Aaron Burr,” but the peanut butter sticking to the roof of his mouth muffles his response.

Desperately he grabs a bottle of milk, only to find it empty. Our friend loses the prize as the commercial’s tag line appears: Got Milk?

And from that moment the phrase “Got Milk?” became part of the popular culture.

The ad is generally considered one of the best commercials of all time. It is even parodied in the Broadway musical Hamilton.

Here’s the thing; I recognize that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Churches, computer firms, and others are obviously trying to leverage the Milk Board’s success into their own.

Regardless of what you’re selling, though, people expect you to address their concerns.

But if the best message you can deliver is a blatant rip-off of someone else’s ad campaign, that doesn’t say much about your ability to provide original solutions.

In fact, if you’re incapable of generating original ideas and the next guy can, shouldn’t I just hire him instead?

Because even if his ideas aren’t a home run, at least he’s making the effort. Just saying “Got Shoes?” or “Got Chocolate?” tells me you’re just phoning it in.

Please don’t misunderstand. You should be watching other marketing materials looking for ideas. Someone may have a great concept for photography, typography, or copy and you can use it as research.

But research and outright theft are completely different. Research Good. Theft Bad.

Get it?

So the next time you think it’s clever to just say “Got Whatever?”, think again. You’re NOT being clever…you’re being a “Me Too!”. And you’re fooling nobody but yourself.

One might even argue your marketing efforts are being counter-productive.