Archive for February 2012

The More You Tell, the More You Sell!

February 29, 2012

In order to satisfy today’s information-hungry audience, K.I.S.S. (keep it simple sweetie) doesn’t always apply. Prospects and customers are looking for detailed information to help them make informed decisions. Here are a few tips to help you educate your audience about the products and services you sell:

* Make your marketing materials more educational. Include a product history, list benefits from a customer perspective, explain how it works, and provide comparisons of why your product is better than the competition.
* Provide customized information packets neatly organized in a pocket folder full of detailed information for customers interested in a specific product or service.
* Show confidence in your products by providing free samples, free product evaluations, or a discounted, no-obligation trial for customers to try your products or services firsthand and learn more about them before making a decision to buy.
* Take advantages of opportunities to be viewed as an expert in your field. Write guest columns in industry publications, speak at a trade show or on a radio feature, and post your own blog.
* Provide a Q&A section on your website that offers convenient answers to potential questions.
* Offer educational product videos that show product highlights, key features, and tips.
* Create customer forums that allow customers to discuss your products openly and educate each other.
* Provide free hands-on training or presentations at your business, during trade shows, or on-site for customers to see and learn the benefits of your products firsthand.
* Offer webinars, e-learning, or how-to seminars that offer educational tips and interesting information not only about your products, but your industry as a whole.
* Publish a regular newsletter as a marketing tool to build relationships and offer information about your business, team, products, and industry.
* Invite customers “behind the scenes.” Give them a tour of your building, and introduce them to your team. Show them a “day in the life” of your company. Let them view how products are made and learn more about your quality-control standards and guides.

Remember that educating your customers shouldn’t stop at the sale. By staying front-of mind and continuing to offer helpful information and tips, your customers will look to you first when they are ready to purchase again in the future.

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Of Manhole Covers and Marketing

February 21, 2012

You’ve probably heard the question asked, “Why are manhole covers round?” Answers vary from the obvious (“because manholes are round”) to the more obscure. Wikipedia offers several possibilities. My personal favorites?

1. A round manhole cover cannot be accidentally dropped into the round hole it covers. 2. The circular shape makes the heavy covers easier to roll.
3. Round castings are easier to machine lathe than those of another shape and less expensive to produce in a size wide enough for a person to fit through.
4. The round shape makes it easy to replace an open cover without having to line up the corners.
5. A round tube holds up better against the earth’s compression surrounding it than a shape with corners would.

If I were to guess, I’d say it’s probably a combination of all these things (and maybe more) that made round manholes and manhole covers so popular.

Which brings me around to marketing.

Like a manhole cover, the best shape for your company’s marketing is also round. More to the point, the best approach to your marketing is a well-rounded one. Just as the reasons for using a round manhole cover are many and varied, so too are the reasons for choosing each specific element in your marketing plan. The big difference? In marketing, there is no one-size-fits-all.

As you consider new marketing opportunities for your company — and reexamine existing channels you’re not sure are still working as effectively as before — ask yourself, “How well does this approach fit with my overall marketing plan?” If the answer is “not very well” or the reasons you come up with for trying it aren’t very sound, you know where that idea should go: straight into the file shaped like a manhole cover.

A Fish Story Worth Remembering

February 21, 2012

Many years ago, a pike was placed in a tank with live minnows. As you’d expect, the pike immediately swam at the minnows and ate them. After a few days, a glass partition was added to the tank, and the minnows were placed on the other side of the glass (away from the pike). The pike continued to swim after the minnows, but kept running into the partition. Eventually, it gave up and swam around its own side of the tank instead.

After some time, the experimenters removed the glass partition separating the fish, but the pike still did not go after the minnows. It had been conditioned to think it could not reach its prey. An account of a similar experiment involving perch is available here.

So what does any of this have to do with business? Well, people, like fish, often give up too soon. We condition ourselves to believe a goal is unobtainable because we’ve experienced setbacks in the past. We give up trying, even if the barriers that once held us back are no longer there.

So the next time someone (even that small voice inside yourself) tells you, “Oh, we’ve tried that before, and it doesn’t work,” remember the story of the pike. Then give it one more try.

7 Keys to a Successful Collaboration

February 15, 2012

The business annals are filled with examples of successful (and not so successful) collaborations. Many of the innovations we take for granted today are the result of individuals and organizations coming together to work toward a common goal. If your company is considering a collaboration (even internally between departments), here are a few tips to keep in mind:

* Start with a common goal, and make sure all parties understand it. Outline your plan, and decide up front who will be responsible for which aspects of the project.
* Spell out your expectations, key deliverables, and a timetable for completion. That way, everyone will start on the same page.
* Establish trust… and work to maintain it. Without trust, information will not flow freely, and if that happens, the collaboration is doomed. Starting with common goals and expectations (see above) will go a long way to building trust, as will delivering on the promises you make.
* Of course, building trust doesn’t mean compromising security. When collaborating with another company or with individuals outside your company, share only information that is vital to the project at hand. This will serve two purposes: First, it will save time that could be wasted getting into details that are irrelevant to the work. Second, it will eliminate leaks that could damage one collaborator’s position.
* Along those same lines, have all parties involved sign non-disclosure agreements, as a legal safeguard to ensure everyone has the project’s best interest in mind. Obviously, this is not necessary for internal collaborations, but when working with outside parties, an NDA can keep everybody protected.
* Let each collaborator focus on their strengths. In successful collaborations, each party brings its own strengths and skillsets to the table. Trouble starts when egos get wounded and collaborators are unwilling to give up control of certain aspects of the project. A well-defined and documented plan, like the one outlined above, will help.
* Keep in close touch with your superiors. If you’re representing your company in a collaboration, let your supervisors know how things are progressing. Keep them in the loop, so they can step in when necessary to help ensure the project remains on track.

What other tips or examples do you have to share from your own collaborations or from collaborations you’ve seen? I’d love to read about them in the comments below.

Six Steps to Handling Mistakes at Work

February 13, 2012

Mistakes are a natural part of life… and business. How you handle those mistakes will go a long way in turning a dissatisfied customer around. Here are a few things you can do when mistakes occur at your company to help resolve the issue and make sure it doesn’t happen again:

1. Acknowledge the mistake. When someone brings an error to your attention, own up to it. Apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused, and get to work (with the customer) to resolve the situation.
2. Act swiftly. As soon as a mistake comes to light, get to work fixing the problem. If it’s a quick fix, all that much better. However, if resolving the issue will take more time, let the customer know that, too, and set a realistic timetable for reaching a resolution.
3. Keep the customer involved. Ask the customer what you can do to make things right, and keep in close touch with them until the issue is resolved. This will help the customer see how seriously you take the situation… and their business.
4. Follow up and follow through. After the situation has been resolved, follow up with the customer to make sure everything is now okay. Follow through on any promises you made, and let the customer know how much you appreciate their feedback.
5. Schedule a postmortem. Once you’ve had a little time to breathe, gather together the key members of your team who worked on resolving the problem. Figure out what caused the initial error, and decide what can be done differently in the future to prevent the same thing from happening again.
6. Shore up your processes. This goes hand-in-hand with the previous step. With the team’s recommendations now in hand, start implementing the changes you think will help your company move forward into the future.

Break the Ice – 6 Cold Call Success Strategies

February 8, 2012

Few of us enjoy making cold calls, but for many salespeople cold calling is inevitable. Here are six tips to help warm your next cold call:

1. Don’t make the cold call your first point of contact. Instead, start with a letter or email. Introduce yourself, your company, and the products or services you provide. Explain the benefits the prospect will gain from working with you, and let them know you will be following up with a phone call to set up an appointment to talk.
2. Or the last. Don’t jump right into a sales pitch on your first cold call and expect to close a sale. Respect the person’s time, their schedule, and the fact that your call was not on that schedule before you made it. Ask if this is a good time to talk. If it isn’t, suggest times when you could call back, or offer to meet in person if that will work better for the prospect.
3. Do your homework. Find out ahead of time who you should be contacting at a prospective company. Learn what you can about their business and how your solution can best fit their needs.
4. Prepare an outline. Have some idea what you want to say before you make your call. Start with a script if that makes you comfortable, but try not to make it sound too mechanical or forced. Relax as best you can and try to be yourself. Your preparation and earlier contact should help.
5. Ask questions. Don’t do all the talking. Instead, introduce yourself, and then ask the prospect about their company and the role they play in it. Listen carefully to their responses. Work to build a rapport and connect with them one-on-one.
6. Follow up. As your call wraps up, try to set a time to meet face-to-face or over the phone again. After hanging up, send another email, thanking the person for their time, and reminding them of any future appointments you made. If they had questions you were unable to answer on the spot, find those answers and pass them along as quickly as possible. And create a schedule of regular follow-up activity to help you stay front-of-mind.

So what other advice do you have for warming up cold calls? I’d love to hear your suggestions and success stories in the comments below.