Twice in my life I found myself as an adult without a job. The two situations were quite similar and they both happened fairly close together. It’s not something I would wish upon anyone, but as you might imagine I learned a lot about life and about myself during those challenging times.
One of the things wise people encouraged me to do was to meet with people to help me see what possibilities existed out there and to better understand what made me special, valuable, and unique. A handful of people took time to meet with me and it made a big difference.
While the two seasons ended in very different employment situations, they confirmed something I had generally tried to do throughout my career. It’s a different kind of “networking”.
I’ll meet with almost anyone who asks me to connect with them professionally – especially when they are in a time of transition.
While my schedule is as crowded as any of yours, if a new college graduate, a trailing spouse, or a friend of a friend wants to get together to talk about their career or to learn about mine, I’ll work really hard to make time. Partially it is because people did the same for me. At times it’s a way to give back to others in the same way connections have been given to me. And while I try not to do it for selfish reasons, I can honestly say these meetings have provided me some significant personal and business gains through the years as well.
Sometimes you meet a person who is just right for your own company. Other times you find someone who may be a perfect fit for one of your clients. But even if those things don’t happen, it’s rewarding to help other people. If they leave your meeting and take some of the steps and find their own path – in a problem, a career, or with their product, it does feel good knowing you were able to help.
It's a simple way to give back to and acknowledge those who gave to me.
In the early days of my agency my clients would ask me to help them come up with an idea. I would quickly reply “okay,” or “you bet,” or “we’ve got this”.
Then, I would retreat to my car or make the walk back to my office on Kirk Avenue, stare ahead, and think "Oh man, what do I do now?" I always had faith the idea would come, but its arrival frequently included anxiety, questions, and some additional stress.
Frankly, the pressure meant the creative process was bound to be more difficult.
As my firm grew, I started working more closely with creative folks which allowed for the dispersal of some of that pressure. It certainly made life easier. Even still, I had to learn to let go. It was time to let others add their input and ultimately come up with the (usually even better) creative approach.
Honestly, much of the growth of B2C came as other – more talented – creative people got involved in the process.
Years later, I’ve realized something even more important has stemmed from our creative shift: Not only did the process get less stressful and easier, but I became a better account executive and manager.
Now, when I’m in front of a prospect or client, I simply KNOW my team is going to have an exceptional creative idea. It’s a relief when you know the people working alongside you are going to come through. Relief is significant, but the confidence you have in your team shows in your approach and presentation.
It’s the same reason the star quarterback elects to toss the ball to his favorite receiver, or the editor gives the big assignment to that accomplished reporter.
As sellers and account managers we are a reflection of the team behind us who are doing the work. When they’re doing great work it shows naturally through our demeanor and plays out well for those of us out in front of the public. The confidence you have in your team gives you the ability to leave a meeting and simply know you really do have this covered.
My Dad is probably the biggest fan of my writing – and sometimes my biggest critic. I’ve seen the statistics for this monthly piece and most of you who receive it actually read it. Some of you may muddle through it while others engage with the message, writing to tell me thank you or explain how a point hit them just right. In many cases, my Dad will still give me feedback and tell me how much he liked what I wrote. He’s been reading (and editing) my work since the 1970’s when I was a cub sports reporter at the local town newspaper in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.
These columns are submitted because I love to write and because I usually have something helpful to share. Helping people is a passion of mine and this serves as a gateway for that purpose. In the process, it’s also helped me and my business. This monthly tip or thought-starter is definitely an outlet. It’s also a way to keep B2C Enterprises in front of prospective, current, and former clients of our advertising and marketing agency. It’s one of the ways we build top of mind awareness – that’s for sure.
There is a reason to do this. And frankly, it is a reason you should consider yourselves.While you may not love to write like I do, surely there is someone in your organization who does. Consistently creating helpful content is one of the most powerful business development tools your company can employ. The material needn’t be sales focused – in fact it’s often better if it isn’t – but the regular outreach can make a huge impact for your growth.Put those ideas and thoughts out there – as a part of your routine. People love to receive helpful information. Then, when they have other questions or thoughts, you and your organization can become a resource to them. It’s because they remember hearing from you. It’s true I write these pieces because I want to, but now that the secret is out, I also write them to engage people who may have an interest in working with us.
Plus, who doesn’t love getting sweet feedback from their 89-year-old father in their email inbox? (Hi, Dad.)
About a year and a half ago we hired a business development person at our marketing and advertising firm.
It was a big step for me since prior to that time we had never had an official sales department at our company. I didn’t have to hire someone else to work in that area – we were growing and business was solid. It was just that the right person came along at a time when I was willing to take the chance to grow.
While she hadn’t officially sold marketing and advertising before, I believed she had the tools to be successful – and she has been – besting her first year sales goal and helping our agency grow.
Part of our process with her on board was a weekly meeting with me to review our collective progress on sales projects with which we were each working.
Simply put, knowing we’d have to address each sales opportunity created a desire to make sure our work was done. That’s called accountability and it works in other areas just like in sales.
There were weeks we didn’t feel like meeting and times I am sure I didn’t do what I should or could have – likewise for her. But we press on regardless because there is great value in consistency.
So there you have it – accountability and consistency. Not exactly flashy or exciting, but they are two of the greatest drivers of sales and business growth. They are also two of the easiest things to skip – especially in hard times.
Just adding another person (who also happens to be very capable) not only improved our overall sales, but it also forced me to improve my skills and stay on task…and that drove even more growth. In other words, the addition made me better, too.
I have heard it so many times.
When you are brought in to tidy up and refocus a half dozen advertising sales departments over a few decades you’re bound to notice some consistencies. This is the best time of year to note and begin to change one such pattern in your own business.
Invariably when I started at each place and began to “nose around” my curiosity would kick in and I would ask something like, “Well, why is it done this way?” As you might expect the answer was almost always the same.
“Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”
Anytime I heard that, I immediately responded with another question --- “why?”
Stop for a moment and think about what you are doing in your business before you do it. Does it make sense? Is it the right next step? Is it putting your client or customer or patient first? Then make the determination if it is the best course of action for you and your organization.
The easiest thing to do is what has always been done.
The principle is the same whether it is in regard to your advertising, marketing, operations, production, or paperwork flow. Different may not be good or even better, but evaluating why you are taking a particular course is critical to your company’s growth and development. Wrestle that persistent urge to follow the path of least resistance and simply do things the way you’ve always done them.
Last week I was chosen to participate as a judge at a Roanoke College advanced level business policy class. The fall semester student project was to plan, develop and introduce a new business. Hundreds of work hours went into the building of rationale, process, and the overflowing binders distributed with their presentations. The team I judged was opening a nightclub in State College, Pennsylvania. It was clear they had thought creatively, comprehensively and worked as a team. It was impressive.
As judges, we had the opportunity to ask questions as we evaluated their plans for the club. Never being one to shy away from stretching young minds -- I focused several questions on the issue of thinking ahead. How would the team handle something bad happening at their establishment – not an unreasonable thought when you consider the elements involved in such an endeavor? All their thought and hard work had somehow failed to consider the impact of a crisis and the ramifications of being unprepared to communicate clearly and calmly in the wake of such an event. Clearly, such planning wasn’t on their radar – at all.
What about you and your organization? Are you ready for the unexpected? Perhaps you don’t have the exposure of a bar/nightclub, but crisis plays no favorites and comes in all sizes and scopes. A timely and well thought out response is the best defense. Build out some actions steps for potential problem areas with your business and get your leadership communicating about how you can work together.
So much is made recently about branding your company. Use logo or name recognition to get that customer in the door or to remind that client to come see you more often. Create top of mind awareness to build traffic and increase sales. They are all good reminders - all good suggestions. Each a powerful part of the business generation plan. Advertising draws those potential clients in – so can marketing and public relations. Where companies sometimes slip off track is in engaging those customers once they have made an initial decision to do business with you or shop at your location.
It’s important to get new customers. It’s even more important to keep those customers. Two current business partners of mine specialize in that. For years Jerry Brown at www.businessvoice.com has been helping literally thousands of locations around the world market to their current base of clients through his Point of Entry Marketing Programs. Whether someone approaches you by calling, clicking or visiting, they want to learn more – now you can connect with them. See how you can extend that initial brand power…email Jerry directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The purpose of the “care card” is to stay in touch with your clients. My old leader Jon Harpst has an interesting program (www.sendoutcards.com/73353) that can help your sales force or marketing team regularly interact with their clients at a very reasonable price. It is a great example of branding carried out to the one-on-one level. Commemorate an anniversary, celebrate a birthday, or send a personal note of recognition. You can sample it free or call Jon directly at 517.202.7849 to learn more about setting up your own program. He’ll walk you through the program personally.
Most every one of my clients is in the budget preparation and planning stage…it is the season after all! Many of you are coming out of some tough times and all the expenses that can realistically be cut have been. To best make these cash flow numbers work for everyone you simply must take another look at the revenue side. It’s always “fun” to project big growth, but being practical means figuring out how the revenue will grow in 2011.
Can I be direct?
There are only two ways to grow revenue – increase your Drawing Power or increase your Selling Power. Building your Drawing Power means you’ll need to attract new customers. If you want to pull in new people you’ll need to plan for more advertising, outreach, marketing, public relations or hope for a somewhat random uptick in sales.
You can also make more money by selling more products and services to your current clients, patients or customers. This is called Selling Power. If you want to sell more things to your current customers you’ll need to plan for more training, marketing, education or perhaps some new products or services. There are no shortcuts.
The point is – none of this happens accidentally.
Pretending you’ll magically see a 20% sales increase doesn’t do anyone any favors…especially in these hyper-competitive times. Instead, evaluate what new things you’ll need to do in order to make 2011 a revenue success. Take a fresh look at how you spend your advertising budget, how you equip your sales force, how you market or promote your company and how you can take advantage of all the new ideas out there.
The topic was set, the timeline was in place.
I knew exactly what I was going to write about until I opened the Wall Street Journal one morning and saw the following headline: Cain Never Prepared for the Storm. Herman Cain. Remember him? Only a few weeks ago he was a frontrunner in the Republican Presidential Primary. Regardless of your political leaning, you simply have to agree this was a poorly executed Public Relations problem.
Every business (large or small) should take pause to reflect on a plan for dealing with a crisis. No matter what business you are in – you are exposed to potential liability and the fifteen minutes of fame you do not want. This is the reality of the times in which we live.
Here’s another reality – few companies, organizations or leaders pull back and evaluate what they would do when they face “unforeseen” circumstances. Fewer still put a plan in place.
So, why does an advertising guy have an opinion about PR? Simple. It’s my job to help clients communicate with and best reflect their value to customers. Handling a crisis alone is like being your own lawyer. You’re too close and it isn’t your area of expertise. Frankly it isn’t my strength either.
That’s why I team with crisis communications expert Stephanie Koehler and SAKinterMedia whenever one of my clients has a question in the public relations realm. She can help you craft a plan, practice for those challenging times, and uncover where your potential exposure lies. The key, however, is to make that call before the media calls you. You’ll be out front, prepared and have a strategy. That’ll put you on the leading edge and allow you to rest a bit more comfortably when the media appears at your doorstep.
I listened to a recent radio broadcast of a college basketball game. The teams were moving up and down the court at a fevered pace. There was lots of movement and action – not any scoring. This went on for a few minutes and the announcer said something that caught my ear. He said, “Don’t ever confuse activity with accomplishment,” and it hit me.
In commerce - especially in sales and business development – that statement is the key to staying ahead of economic struggles and downturns. For years, I have encouraged Account Managers and Clients to review --- really review --- their prospect lists.
There is another big benefit…
Account Managers used to hold up their long list of prospective clients – kind of like a shield – to show me how much they had going and how hard they were working. Over time I learned to help my team evaluate how genuinely interested their prospects were in working with them. It didn’t take long for all involved to determine the list wasn’t as promising as the Account Manager would have hoped.
Never confuse a big prospect list with a good one.
It was scary for the reps to let go of some of the accounts they were working on, but the reality of figuring out who was really interested freed them up to go out and pursue other businesses. That ultimately led to them finding better and more interested prospects. They had a fresh start.
How about you? When was the last time you honestly evaluated who you were targeting?
It’s usually pretty easy to come up with a mission statement, a distinguishing characteristic of your organization, or even a unique selling proposition for your company. Leaders frequently focus on these concepts. Hours and hours will be spent figuring out what is most important to the company or the organization. Then you’ll typically decide how what you represent is communicated. It starts with the drive is to determine what you and your organization are all about.
Knowing what you represent is clearly important, but so is who represents you.
The other day I took my son for ice cream at a local parlor and we were greeted passive indifference. The clerks had planted themselves at a table – were listening to hard rock music and we seemed to be interrupting their afternoon. We asked for a flavor they had listed, but it was too much trouble to go to the back and bring it out so we just didn’t get it. It wasn’t a big deal for me, but it was a lost sale for them.
Earlier in the day another clerk at a different place was so busy interacting with her manager and fellow employees she totally messed up my order and that was after she had asked me to repeat it - twice.
It’s wise to be sure of what your company represents – at the same time you have to pay close attention to who represents your organization. Are they polite? Are they aware? Are they engaging your customers or patients? How would you even know??? Strategic partners of B2C Enterprises can help you uncover your potential and current client service issues. If there is one thing worse than bad service, it’s not being aware of just how bad it is.
2In a Row?
There was an internal battle I had to work through. Last month I wrote about Nick Saban and his approach to changing a culture. A few weeks back I read a very interesting article about him in the Wall Street Journal that once again caught my eye. A different publication, but a similar thought starter…
While I was uncomfortable referring to a football coach two months in a row, it was such a revelation and a great example, I decided to push forward regardless. Football fan or not, everyone can appreciate how much our time spent reflect the priorities we set.
Each day Coach Saban and his assistants set aside one hour for recruiting high school football players. They write hand written notes, send texts, make phone calls and do other tasks, according to this article, that help them build the talent base of the program in future years. It’s an investment – of time.
What It Means4You
We talk about how busy we are. Most of us really do have crowded schedules.
Few operate at a more hectic pace than a college football coach…let alone the coach of the defending national champs. Yet, there is Nick Saban, with one of the most talented programs in America, investing an hour of his workday – alongside the rest of his coaches – in development. It is not an accident he’s perennially a top recruiter in his industry.
It takes a strategy, structure, a plan and most of all discipline to break away and focus forward. No one said it was easy, but can you see how a similar approach would work wonders for you?
This month Bruce C. Bryan shares a picture of... an empty building.
Why Did He Post a Picture of an Empty Building4Me?
When I arrived in Toledo, Ohio in 1997 as a sales manager at an ABC owned TV station, the top local advertisers in the market were primarily established, well-known retailers. Many in the Midwest would recognize the names that perennially appeared on the rankings - Lion Department Store, Home Depot, Value City Department (and Furniture) Store and a significant local grocery chain called Food Town.
Food Town (their former marketing office is pictured above) was a progressive advertiser engaged in the community and a major player in the local television marketplace. Now, the building is empty and their operations are ceased. The owners decided to go a different direction. I drove by it earlier this month and remembered working with them. Shortly after my arrival in 1997, Lion was bought out by a larger chain and their TV spending disappeared. Home Depot started buying network commercials. Both Value City retail outlets closed their operations... you get the idea.
No one would have forecasted the demise of all these anchor advertisers - in such a short time. No one.
Making It Hard2Budget
It's a basic principal of business. Companies want (and sometimes need) to achieve specific revenue budgets.
No matter how well (or not well) your clients are doing, your company expects to see results. Client closings, cutbacks, or shifting in the base of their business are mere hurdles your company must overcome. You may be sitting at your desk in the fall of 2013 thinking about your 2014 budget. Start by recognizing there is nothing certain. If you're in charge of revenue - review your client's trends, patterns, and potential issues. Then be sure you're focused on replacing the money that is likely sliding away at some point during the year. Don't make the mistake of counting on your top clients always being your top clients.
It will help you prepare for the coming change and respond better when that (often discouraging) news arrives.
A Simple Concept2Get
Have you ever been at a party, or perhaps the coffee shop, when you run across someone you know and you just cannot remember their name? Of course you have - it happens to all of us. Sometimes it's the second after they tell it to you and you realize it's a lost cause - their name is gone.
After years of attending work and social events, I started paying attention to this phenomenon and I believe I have a solution for you. It's pretty radical to be prepared for the big shift in thinking...
Here's what you need to do...
Super Hearing Not Necessary
The Big Change4You
Most of us are so concerned about getting our name out, we actually forget to listen (really listen) to the name coming from the other person.
Names are important. Hearing their own name is a sweet sound to a person. It helps them feel significant - even special. Yet too often, we mess them up, forget them, or never even take the time to actually take in the information in the first place.
Start with these changes:
There you go...stop, look and listen.
When they Ask4Help
Sometimes it's a phone call or an email. Every once in a while someone will text me or stop me on the street.
Usually it starts with, "Hey Bruce, do you know someone who...?"
With a little thought and some memory triggers, I am able to suggest a person who can help with insurance, a great woman who does event planning, a scavenger who can find a hard to track down object, a guy who is amazing at making puppets or murals or whatever else it is.
Generally it takes just a little thought for others to build your library of helpers. Do that first and as you connect resources to the people who need them, you'll get some indirect benefit as well.
When you connect people to others you help both parties. Yes, that's a simple concept. If you want to grow your business, one of the best first steps you can take is selflessly and purposefully linking others. You don't do it to directly build sales. That becomes a bi-product of your development as a resource to others in need.
It's rather transparent if you're in it for yourself. Trust me - that rarely works.
Building your library of trusted helpers and making those connections and introductions is a smart way to bring value to your relationships - in and out of the work place.
Another Help Thought2Share
Have you ever tried to help someone who didn't think they needed it? How did that work out for you?
Generally speaking, as we go about our days trying to pay it forward, we are greeted with appreciation and sometimes even acknowledgement. That feels good and it's one of the reasons (if we are honest) many of us help others. Helping others just feels good.
So often the principles that guide us through life translate simply into developing a business and establishing a professional reputation or brand. Here's something that has taken me years to learn. It's a lesson I must remind myself on a (more than I'd like to publicly admit) regular basis.
You can only genuinely help organizations that want your help.
No matter how good your recipe is, how skilled you craft that piece of furniture, how clean you make your store, or how much training you've received to practice your medical procedure, if your recipient isn't ready to accept your help or insights, there is no reason to offer it.
"I'm the best tooth cleaner this side of the swamp.Is that a... feather?"
Through the years I have made the mistake of putting concepts, creative ideas, best practices and new measures in front of scores of people when they were not ready to hear them. Being early is great when it is a 2pm appointment. Being early with guidance and help is not such a good course of action in business.
It's important to be available and willing to help. It's even more important to know when to offer it. Oh, and try not to take it personally when they decide not to ask - that may be the toughest lesson in this month's issue...
You probably answer "busy" when asked that all too familiar question; "how is work going?"
It's the most common response to the question regularly asked by friends, family, and associates. So much so, your reply just spills out before you even know it.
Less of us are in the work force, yet more work is being required - or that's at least how it seems. Add in the ever present smart phones and the needs our co-workers, bosses, and clients have for immediate information and you have a recipe for some extremely busy days.
An experienced palate will note the hint of looming deadlines.
Here's the thing --- busyness doesn't equal business.
You can scurry from task to task - even cross off the plentiful items on your "To Do" list - but that doesn't mean you are successfully navigating your day or the priorities that come with genuine business. Perhaps you've heard me discuss the tyranny of the urgent. Maybe you've paid big bucks for time management classes or systems. Sometimes you could be in servitude to your email inbox.
Those are the very things that keep us busy. They aren't necessarily the things of business.
It's time to focus our efforts on the real facets that make others want to do business with us, the genuine connection that builds lasting relationships.
Last month I had some unusual feelings about how things were going with a few of my key clients. Instead of firing off a series of emails or clicking through my ever-present "To Do" list, I decided to specifically reach out to each of them, meet them where they were, and ask how they thought things were going. Getting honest feedback isn't always fun, but it is a great way to see how you are doing and determine how you can get better.
So get busy with the important part of business.
Right next door.
That's where the downtown Roanoke headquarters for a major regional company is located.
For the past few years we've been doing work for Boxley Materials Company. This isn't a piece about one of our clients, rather an interesting study in how business development, building a network of referring partners, and the power of the internet has made our really big world incredibly small.
We share an office wall with Boxley, but more importantly we share a trusted advisor. Sarah Huddle from the Albright Group works with clients up and down the eastern seaboard. She has roots in Roanoke, but is located in Richmond. For years we've supported her company's efforts and she recently turned to us to partner on a series of projects for Boxley.
Think about the path involved in finishing this major project...
Boxley, my work neighbor, hired the Albright Group in Richmond who brought B2C Enterprises (Roanoke) into help with a specific project. We then turned to our business partner WebArt (Toledo, Ohio) and jointly developed a web site marketing program for Boxley. Our businesses are linked together by experience, expertise, and need. But the foundation is the relationship. That relationship - interwoven with trust - has driven business for everyone.
We're all less than six degrees from our next business opportunity... and Kevin Bacon.
We're all over the Eastern Time Zone - each doing our part - no longer bound by proximity. Think about where your next new business opportunity will come from. It could be next door or from a town far away.
It's a small world after all.
Go Back2Go Forward
A few years ago, I realized I had started a company without having a full understanding of the best systems to put in place. As the firm grew, things were done in ways that seemed to make the most sense. The business expanded, new clients joined the portfolio, and employees were hired. With the success of the company, comes a concern of becoming stuck in our ways. Companies that live by an "it's the way we've always done it" mentality often find themselves way behind the times.
You hear "it's the way we've always done it" a lot with established companies, but even fledgling creative organizations can slip into that routine.
There I was, a relatively new business owner, with the sudden realization there may be better ways to do certain things. Not sure how to break that pattern, I decided to make a phone call.
To Mid-Michigan4The Answer
Almost 25 years ago, I did business with an ad man in Saginaw, Michigan who always seemed to have it together. (He'd bristle at me writing that.) He was cordial to me; kind really - and in many ways he took me under his wing and spoke some powerful things into my life - both personally and professionally. We stayed in touch through the past few decades though we hadn't seen each other in person. Sam Britton answered hard questions and let me bounce my situations and crazy ideas off of him. I continued learning.
About eight months ago, we formalized an arrangement with Sam since he had retired from the advertising game. Basically, we've hired Sam to give us honest feedback. He ends up being sort of a quality control step in our creative process. He's also one of the most talented writers I know and has a fine attention to detail.
We had a missing step and an old friend, who's a trusted advisor and a gifted man, was there to fill a hole in our organization. Helpful resources are often in plain sight - sometimes they can come from days gone by.
Disney Themes Make4A Fun Attention Getter
The back and forth of converting new business is part "The Circle of Life" and a hint of a "Tale as Old as Time".
The interrupting first line of this month's B2Seed is also a great description of what happens in most companies...
They randomly break into song! Wait... No... that's not right.
Sales blames Marketing and Marketing blames Sales. Either the leads or prospects the sales people are getting from marketing aren't any good, or the leads are great, but those danged sellers can't seem to close any business.
One of my former bosses used to say, "never accept in good times what you wouldn't put up with in bad ones." That means when things are humming along, it's perhaps the best time to evaluate your processes, work flow, leads, and conversions. When times are tough, it's easier to get frustrated or lose your focus due to the pressures of needing to generate sales.
Yes, I just used culture as a verb. It's okay - word creation is allowed in marketing and advertising.
Before you decide where the break down is between sales and marketing - recognize the leader sets the tone and actually determines the way an organization approaches those departments. If you've got departments fighting like that - you should start with a focus there. Fix that.
Then begin that evaluation process. There are all kinds of modern tools - things like dedicated phone lines, customized URLs for your web traffic, UTM tags to track users and prospects. You can use codes, tracking software, client resource management software, and a bunch of other really cool things to help you find your organization's stress points.
Then you can reduce that stress and sing a new song - like "Hakuna Matata"...
When certain people hear the word salesperson, or seller, or account representative, they get kind of a yucky feeling or feel their stomach turn. Perhaps it’s because I spent most of my adult life observing, training, and coaching sellers, I have a general warmth or kindness for those in that profession.
I have news for you, too.
You are most likely in that profession, or are in charge of people who are in it, or maybe represent a company that ultimately needs to sell. It’s simply a part of commerce. A big part.
A Little Help4You
If you’re going to be a part of the process or help others who are, you will need to know these three things at a minimum.
Unless you are a cute child, then you can skip the rest.
For a patient, prospect, potential customer, or user to actually engage with your business, you are simply going to have to have all three elements present. It’s that simple.
Just like you review who, what, when, where, and why/how when producing an announcement or invitation, a smart businessperson will look for these three elements. If you can’t find a pain, the prospective client doesn’t have an ability to buy what they need to fix it, or if you’re unable to connect with the decision maker, you have a flimsy prospect. No matter how good they may appear in one or two of the areas – without all three you (or your people, or your organization) are simply chasing your tail.
Business, like life, moves in cycles.
After seven years of owning my own company, I was recently at a crossroads. Like Tom Hanks at the end of “Castaway”, I had to make a tough choice (one that ended up being pretty easy to make actually).
Last year we started an advertising campaign in a local newspaper for our advertising agency. Not many businesses in our area of specialty actually advertise very much so it was a significant move. A month or so ago, we collectively decided to shift our focus from print to local television. We were in the process of producing our new commercials when we got some bad news.
We ran out of the yellow Peanut M&M's on set. Sorry Jamie.
One of our clients was backing off. Another client was going in a different direction. While plenty of possibilities were in the “pipeline” and some were on the cusp of using our services, we did have several weeks of uncertainty. Should we pull back our advertising initiative?
The thought of discontinuing our advertising did more than cross my mind…It was a serious consideration.
A "Duh" Moment4Me
Then I realized the mistake I was about to make.
Thousands of times over the past three decades, I’ve encouraged businesses to stretch or hold firm their marketing budgets during the rough times for their business. The studies and statistics support this premise and have for decades. Companies holding or expanding their advertising during challenging times actually catapult out of the struggle way ahead of their competition.
It’s not that advertising is the panacea. However, cutting your advertising budget at the first sign of trouble is never - EVER - the best move. It will only make the problems worse. Even though it was the strategy I had pushed for years, I was briefly tempted to pull back during my own business’ challenging few weeks. Once I caught my breath, I knew it wasn’t the right call.
I am convinced moving forward with our campaign was the right decision – not just because I had been pushing this strategy all these years, but because I know from my personal experience it works.
If you’re in Roanoke you may see our commercials on TV. If you live out of town you can click here to view them.
At a recent meeting, I was both listening and minding my own business when the word came drifting across the table. One of my favorite clients told a co-worker I was a “blob”.
Believe it or not, she meant it for good.
Part of me was slightly offended, but the rest of me got exactly what she was saying and I quickly adjusted to a place where I embraced the purple goo that my team had become to them: spreading and taking things over.
The thought took me back in time to my very first project with this same client. It was over seven years ago.
My company was only a few months old and I was building a new relationship with a particular client. Like many prospects, this client wasn’t sure they wanted to engage my services. I knew I could offer a great deal of assistance, but I also realized I needed to take slow and steady steps with them. So, we started with a photo project for an upcoming sale. I successfully completed the project and they were happy with the results.
A year or so later, they asked for help on another project. Then another project. And another. Before long, we were doing several projects at once.
Now, nearly a decade later, we do so much for this same client it gets hard to list: we supervise their website marketing, produce print ads and invitations, handle social media, organize their television interviews, direct public relations efforts, help organize major parties and sales events, interact with their manufacturers, buy digital ads and TV commercials, and I’ve even been known to carry a customer’s purchase to their car.
It’s one thing for a client to break up with a web company, or a PR firm, or a vendor. It’s a very different thing to part ways with a company that does so much to solve problems and build sales. We’re an integral part of their leadership team now and, in this case and many like it, it would be very painful to part ways with our company. That’s called stickiness and it’s an actual goal of ours – we’re entrenched with them.
Like the blob that took over your marketing.
Early on I was going to be a reporter – a television sports reporter, actually. I think someone told me I had a face for radio and, eventually, economics and life caused me to shift from journalism to capitalism. In the TV business we used to say "the journalists and the capitalists never cross paths", but I think I kept at least one habit from my days as a reporter.
I ask questions. A lot of questions.
It could be curiosity or nosiness, but it is a heck of a good way to learn things.
And4Many Other Reasons
It's also a really important part of the business development process. Whether training sellers, information gatherers, or practicing this technique in my own agency's efforts, I know questioning is a critical part of selling. For a long time I heard salespeople were the outgoing, gregarious ones who were the life of the event. In reality, I observed the best sellers were the ones who asked good questions and listened intently to the answers provided.
The power of sales is in the hearing of the problems and the crafting of the solutions. Without questions, you cannot get to the source of the challenge. Good questions should lead to more questions. After learning, the capable seller can then propose an answer that best aligns with their client's needs. Frankly, it's the reason good doctors ask why you're there before they start the examination and provide the diagnosis. Doing it the other way around makes no sense.
Ask questions and get information.
Ask really good questions and get even better information.
Keep it Real4Your Development
Over the past few months I’ve been spending a lot of time discussing, coaching, and observing business development – both within and outside of my organization. My mind has been on it consistently and I’ve been reminded of something I coached many sellers to do through the years.
It’s so easy in the sales process to nod your head, agree with the prospect, and work to keep the peace. After all, it feels better and what kind of position are you in to object or share strong opinions when you’re trying to start a business relationship with someone? The answer is the best position.
While you may not want to upset the proverbial apple cart, it’s really important to establish a truth-telling relationship with a prospect before they become a client. It’s how the framework of your bond will be built. Is it difficult? Yes. But it’s worth it because until you share direct and honest feedback, you can’t get to the issues that are causing your new prospect (or client) their troubles.
And2Help Elsewhere Too
I’m pretty sure my friend Jerry Brown, President of Madison Avenue Marketing Group, didn’t invent the phrase “Authentic Dialogue”, but it resonated with me from the very first time I heard it. And frankly it revolutionized how I helped salespeople approach their work. It’s so important to be real with your prospects.
So maybe you’re still reading this and you’re not in sales – my hope is you’re getting the point of where I am headed. Like so many lessons in life – this one goes deeper.
The genuine exchange of information, vision, and plans extends way beyond the sales process. It’s woven throughout the client relationship. It’s important to stay on top of the down deep feelings and concerns of your clients (and employees, and advisors, etc.). Only through an authentic exchange can you and your team truly accomplish all you desire.
While waiting for my son’s video game console to be fixed at our local GameStop, I overheard a conversation nearby. The sales clerk was speaking with the next person in his line and, instead of asking the all too familiar question “Did you find everything okay today?”, he had a different approach.
“Is there a game you’re looking forward to getting?” he asked.
My son’s PS4 was in bad shape, so I was able to listen as he asked three different customers the same question. Interestingly enough, two of the three gave him very specific answers. One ended up taking action by signing up to pre-order their highly-anticipated game. All three seemed to appreciate the thought behind the employee’s question and replied in some sort of significant way.
Success – he had broken the retail pattern.
There are patterns in every part of commerce. It’s easier to be robotically repetitive and as businesspeople, shoppers, or office workers, we tend to continue doing what we’re most comfortable with. If you’re going to do the same thing every time, though, you may as well see if your pattern makes sense and is helpful to your goals.
This GameStop sales clerk’s pattern worked. Sales increased, sure. But, more than that, he was also having much more interesting conversations with his prospects and creating a positive energy. That’s powerful stuff.
I was still hanging around (told you that PS4 was in bad shape) when there was a break in his line. I mentioned what a good approach he had and how effective it seemed to be. The clerk quickly pointed to his manager and said “It’s all him.” The whole staff had trained and practiced engaging with customers using these open-ended questions. The clerk told me he was still learning, but it was clear he had figured out a few things already.
Perhaps we could learn a little by taking a closer look at our patterns.
Is there anything you’re looking forward to learning about these days?