Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lesson #12: Sales Is Good for Business

When I was a freshman in college my educational inspiration came from the late Harvard professor, Dr. Timothy Leary - who following his own advice, “turn on, tune in, drop out” did exactly that in the name of finding the true meaning of life. I had my own version of this philosophy. It consisted of driving up to Mount Tamalpais in my little red sports car to get above the thick fog, hanging with a group of old Italians at the CafĂ© Trieste in North Beach where English was a foreign language or throwing a crab net over Muni Pier to see if I was smart enough to enjoy Crab Louie that night. At least the beer and chips felt good on a sunny afternoon. It was more educational than falling asleep in a classroom.

It was on one of these excursion days that I tagged along with my friend, Lincoln, who was in the market for a newer version of his car. He was interested in selling his ’61 Chevrolet Corvair and buying a ‘64 Corvair. We use to joke with Lincoln about his choice in a car that Ralph Nader once called the most dangerous car ever build in his investigative book, “Unsafe At Any Speed” (1965).

We ended up at a Chevy dealer on Geary Boulevard in San Francisco where he found the vehicle in the used car lot. The sales person told Lincoln to leave his car on the premise so that he wouldn’t get a parking ticket in the event his test drive went longer than the minutes on the parking meter. That made sense so we cruised around, doing the test drive, but after about 10 minutes, Lincoln decided there was a problem with the car and chose against buying it. As we re-entered the dealer’s lot, Lincoln didn’t see his car nor could he find the sales person. He asked several employees where his car was and they all acted as if Lincoln hadn’t taken a bath in two weeks.

The Old Trick
After several minutes of hunting around the lot, there in the back row of the service garage, Lincoln found his Corvair behind three other vehicles. He asked one of the mechanics to please get his car out of there. The mechanic mumbled something and walked away. Now what?

Finally, the sales person reappeared, a big smile on his face. Lincoln told him he wanted to continue looking at other dealers and could he get his car back.
“Look,” said the salesman, “Your car’s on its last legs, and that Corvair you just drove is one of those rare ones with a supercharger. You’re lucky you found it. I’ve got people dying for this car but I’ll make you a great deal right now, and we’ll take your old one in trade.”
Lincoln wasn’t impressed. But the sales person wasn’t going to budge. He waved his manager over to join us. Oh no! – the dreaded manager “say-hi-to-my-customer” tactic! Here we were held hostage by a used car commando unit and no way out! The sales manager was so focused on Lincoln that he didn’t even notice me. This guy was a regular Captain Crunch. You know, the imposing pressure-laden, fast talking salesman who won’t take no for an answer. He was practically spitting into Lincoln’s face with every loud punctuation. So here was my poor friend being pressured into buying a car, having his car shoved literally into the corner and seemingly without an option other than to buy the car in order to get out alive!

Was this how successful sales people needed to behave in order to get things done?  It was kind of funny but it was time to blow this taco stand. So, I stepped forward, “Hi Fernando,” I said to the sales manager. Yep, I knew him. In fact, he was my next door neighbor! I can’t tell you the expression on his face but it went dead silent like a deep freeze just swooshed in from the North Pole. He acted as if he’d just been caught by his mother selling narcotics to homeless orphans. In about five minutes, we got back in that ’61 clunker and drove off. I didn’t see much of Fernando after that.

My memories of that episode left a deep scarred image of sales people for a long time. From that point on, I thought of sales as a slimy, corrupt evil that no decent person would ever stoop so low for. To be an outhouse cleaner would be more respectable.

Then, I became an entrepreneur
It comes to you pretty quickly when you realize that you’ve got to sell something in order to keep your business alive. The question was, how do you do it without feeling as if it’s utterly gooey to go home every day and rinse off that stinky slim with a hot shower. But if you’ve followed everything so far in our Urban FIRE process, you should be saving on your hot water bill. Sales should always be enjoyable and profitable! It must be about helping your clients find their solution. As the great sales trainer, Tom Hopkins, once said, “Sales makes the world go round.”

And here’s a reality check: we’re selling all the time – maybe, just calling it something else. It’s been that way for most of our lives. Think about it. When you wanted something or you wanted a situation to go your way, didn’t you have to persuade someone or a group to agree with you – even if all you had to do was persuade yourself?  How about when you were in high school and you were infatuated with someone? If you wanted that person to notice you, didn’t you have to make a memorable impression? Or when you were trying to get your baby to eat, weren’t you doing a sales job on those carrots? How about when you needed to get that promotion at work or convince your mother that the new boyfriend wasn’t a drugged-out gangsta just because he sported a skull and bones tattoo on his forehead?

Selling is natural if it’s a business you love because it’s an integrated part of your life. Loving something means you’re passionate about it and you want to tell the whole world about your love! But when we refer to our expression for love in the context of “sales,”  it gets disassociated from our Top Ten List. Instead, we correlate sales to facing constant rejection. And ouch! Rejection is something we try to avoid because its other name is “failure.”
In the case for your new company, sales needs to be a planned activity based on your Marketing Strategy. It needs to be constant and prioritized meaning that in most cases, the bulk of your initial work will be in marketing and sales. If you do it right, you’ll spend less time hunting for sales and more time filling orders. That’s because you’ll have a cadre of happy customers who will be helping to spread the word about the goodness of your company. At this point, you’re improving your product, your marketing and your delivery to your customers because now, you’ve got a fantastic reputation to uphold!
Sales needs to be measured (like how much money did I bring in this week in comparison to my costs?) so that you’re giving yourself constant feedback on what works and what doesn’t – one of the five principles of deliberate practice. It must be proactive not reactive, and represent your principles and high qualities whether you stand face-to-face with your client or the way it resonates on your website.

Simple and Personal Goes A Long Way
Back in about 1990, I was in Las Vegas for a technology convention when I first heard Tom Hopkins speak about his passion for the sales profession. In fact, he was so passionate that he had a 20-volume video course available at the incredibly low price of $1999 or something like that. But wait! There was more! Since I bought the set that day, I was entitled to an autographed copy of his newest book and nine additional books at no extra charge! I was so loaded down with sales materials that I decided to ship it all back home rather than lug 20 pounds of extra luggage. But having gone through the materials, I realized that what Hopkins had to say could have taken one sentence: “Sales needs to be a simple, personal relationship with you focusing your attention on meeting your customer’s needs.”  Of course, there’s a bit more than that but that pretty much covers the essence. If you’ll recall the research conducted by Forester Research in the Marketing section on successful business websites, the conclusion was the same.

This situation reminded me of the opening paragraph of the famous psychology book entitled “The Road Less Traveled,” by M. Scott Peck. It begins with three words: “Life is difficult.”  He goes on to write, “This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it, then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
Wow! Isn’t that an enlightening revelation! For entrepreneurs, it should be up there with the Platinum Rule. This is one of those memorable quotes that should be plastered on your refrigerator door maybe paraphrase like: “Life is difficult . . . and what else is new?” The rest of Peck’s book draws evidence to this opening statement. But as one of my friends said, “Once you’ve read that opening paragraph, that’s pretty much it.” In the same way, it might be a good thing to get sales training to learn some fundamentals like me going through the Hopkins videos but, if you’re your own boss, your best time spent is just getting out there and focusing on your potential customer’s needs and desires. The more you do this, the easier it gets to do two things: 1. coming up with solutions that are compatible with your customer’s requirements and 2. narrowing your customer profile to fit into your niche. 
If you’ve gained the courage through our Urban FIRE I progressive process of 1.  being true to who you are, 2. resolve to build your library of knowledge, 3. absorbed greater wisdom from those around you and 4. set up your marketing plan, this Sales section should flow like water over smooth granite.

The Formal Method
I’ll be honest with you: my way of selling wasn’t based on any sales theories or research. It was based on watching and listening to great sales professionals. Contrary to what one might conjure up, such as a shifty-eyed shark, what I discovered was that great sales people were compassionate listeners who were neither boastful or obnoxious. They didn’t necessarily have the “gift of gab” as we tend to stereotype sales people. They spoke extremely well – not because they were born with verbal brilliance but because they loved what they were selling, practiced their sales delivery and believed in what they were saying.
You might recall some of those individuals we spoke of in the Leadership section. Wouldn’t being in the presence of any of those individuals have made a rewarding experience where you felt there was honesty, value and sincerity? Well, some of the best sales people were also great leaders because they understood that fulfilling a need required an understanding of the problem, then working with their clients to come up with the solution. They always worked to “understand before being understood” and created a “win-win” partnership where everyone finished with a smile. It was the 7 Habits in real life.
So that I’m not remised in providing the formal sales process, here’s my take on how you would organize your thoughts and actions in an organized manner to fortify your sales effort. In sales, there are two things you have to focus on: strategy and tactics (assuming your marketing and company strategies are in place).

Your Sales Strategy is the planning of your sales activities. Picture yourself as the manager of a baseball team. Will your strategy be to score runs with sluggers who can wallop those homeruns or scrappy, speedy hitters who can outrun a groundball for a base hit. Will you try to score more runs than the other team or will you rely on a dominant pitching staff that gives up few runs. Will your final score be 10-6 or 2-1? It’s the difference in strategizing with the glitzy Broadway budget of the New York Yankees or the frugal Broadway (yes, our Broadway) of the Oakland Athletics. Your Sales Strategy takes into account your budget, your resources and plans out how to maximize what you have! How will you reach out to your clients; how will you distinguish your company from the competition; what resources are available to you to win business? How will you implement your guerrilla marketing strategies into your sales campaigns? Most importantly, your Sales Strategy complements the culture you’ve established both internally and externally of your company’s way of doing business.

Your Sales Tactics refers to the day-to-day methods you use to carry out your Sales Strategy. As in baseball, your sales tactics refers to carrying out your game plan. You’ve changed the culture of your players by motivating them to play as a cohesive team rather than relying on one or two superstars. Your team can’t afford the homerun hitters so you’ve opted for the less glamorous, scrappy hitters who’ll bunt, hit for the sacrifice fly, steal bases and produce runs based on forcing the opposing team to handle the ball more, thus, increasing the odds of making mistakes. Your pitching staff has been trained to keep the ball down low so that the power hitters won’t be able to hit homers. This makes you competitive because your creativity and out-of-the-box thinking to utilize what you have makes up for the lack of high priced superstars. Thus, your sales tactics is the scrappy methods by which you’ll carry out your sales strategy. This would include your particular sales process, how you prospect for new clients, and how you stay in contact with existing clients. There’s plenty where the main ingredients are your brains, imagination and your hustle.

Far Above the Maddening Crowd
By establishing a Sales Strategy, you will be way ahead of what most new small businesses do to organize their income potential. You begin to rise into the atmosphere of established small businesses with their own marketing and sales departments. Their advantage, of course, is they have the budgets to retain fulltime employees to focus on and carry out their sales strategy. Your advantage is that it’s your company and you can do just about whatever you want. The sky’s the limit and your imagination is endless. As Albert Einstein once quipped, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” The critical factor is to organize your efforts and establish a Plan of Action that you implement into your company’s short list of daily Must-Do Activities.

It’s worth repeating: your Sales Strategy should focus on two objectives: your customers’ needs and the solutions you’ve come up with for your customers. To start with, follow this three step process:
  1. Meet with your clients and potential clients regularly (phone, email, person-to-person) and ask them about their needs and concerns. Tell them your company engages the clients in building solutions (because the more your client gets empowered, the more they will feel connected to you as a partner, not as a vendor.) Lastly, ask them what their final expectations would look like. Then, with that expectation in mind, exceed it.
  2. Work with your vendors and other external experts to help you devise solutions built for your clients. Just make sure you’re representing your client’s concerns and ideas so that externals experts are not running away with their own profitable solutions.  
  3. Get better educated about your clients’ industries through their associations and contact their managers to increase your knowledge. It may end up including solutions that already exist.

In the most ideal situation, the sales strategy takes on a synergistic relationship of all three areas and you’re able to provide the best solutions for your clients. This is important so let me repeat that: your best sales solution comes from your understanding of: the client, the solutions available to you and the factors of your client’s industry.

This is one of the best el cheapo Sales Strategies you’re going to find but it’s also one that you should follow even as your business gets well established. Make it into a system where you’ve written out a planned procedure for each time you meet with a new potential client. If you conclude that the client meets your target market and it’s worth your effort to pursue a relationship, then be proactive and use your system! And by documenting your procedure, you’re also laying the groundwork for expanding your business so that others can work within your system.

But remember that you must key in on your target market and the profile of your ideal customer. None of this will matter if you go after every Tom, Dick and Harry without first qualifying them to what your niche market is. And of course, the best way to do this is by focusing all your attention on each individual client who comes along and asking them questions about their business and what they’re looking for in a business relationship. Is it speedy deliveries, cheap prices, expertise in a particular area or consulting services? You can then gauge whether your business is set up to accommodate their needs.

Later, as you mature, you’ll want to cut ties with your bad clients and focus on clients who have been loyal, easy to work with and fit your niche profile. A bad client might mean a business that doesn’t fit your niche, one that requires more time than the monetary gains, and/or one that is always trying to get their prices reduced. By trimming your unprofitable clients, you’ll have the opportunity to improve your relationships with your good clients and increase your revenues. This will also narrow your client demographics through the knowledge you’ve gained in fine-tuning your niche market. You’ve now established a better profile for future clients and further focused your marketing; thus, putting your money where it will do the most good.

The Best Surefire Strategy for Getting New Clients
"I built my original real estate sales business from nothing to being a 98% referral business within three years by keeping in touch with my clients.” – Tom Hopkins

Without a doubt, referrals are your number one source of business or at least, it should be because it requires the least amount of guess work and has the highest rate of success. In surveys I’ve seen, referrals work out to a 60 percent success rate (that’s business from six out of ten referrals!) while cold calling is less than 10 percent plus you have to deal with your share of nasty rejections. When you think about it, referrals are the least expensive sales tactic because it requires less advertising, time spent looking for prospects and shortens the sales cycle (the time it takes when you first start working with a client to when the sales transaction is made).

Here again, you must establish a system that becomes automatic and second nature to you and your staff. Of course, referrals depend on your ability to satisfy your customer’s needs and even going beyond their expectations. And however successful your solutions are, the vast majority of people do business with you because you and the client connected on a personal level, and trust was established. So that your best referrals will come from those who have a real affection for you as an individual who happens to deliver the best solutions for their business. Always keep that in mind: constant improvements of your solutions and a constant nurturing of your relationship. If you get too comfy with the relationship and neglect it thinking they’ll automatically come back to you each time, you might find yourself as the odd person out because someone else will fill the void. Gee, sounds like a marriage, doesn’t it?

Let’s face it: your first clients will most likely be people you already know; maybe family members, close friends, former business associates and clients you’ve worked with in the past. So your first set of referrals will be from those who know you personally and can vouch for your honesty, your concern for the work, your passion and the ease of doing business with you. (Also, think in terms of building your network with your classmates, the participants from your Strategy Session and businesses you meet at the Ignite Expo.)
Once you’ve established your reputation with a few clients, then go back and ask for referrals, not after one transaction but perhaps after three or four and a couple of months. Then get in the habit of asking for referrals from all your clients. The worst they can do is say, “no.” But I doubt that because if you perform and they keep coming back, that says a lot about what they think about you. Now, it’s a matter of getting your client to verbalize that on your behalf. I can’t remember once when someone refused to write me a referral or introduce me to another client when I asked for it. And always remember to thank them for the referral. Perhaps a thank-you card, a phone call or a small gift to show your appreciation. (We all want to be acknowledged and it encourages more referrals in the future!) And why not expose yourself to an even greater extent by participating in LinkedIn, Facebook and other social networking sites as we discussed in Marketing.
It’s Got to Be a System So that It’ll Grow Organically
So establish that Referral System and use it regularly! Establish a tickler file that sets up benchmarks for when you’ll be asking for a referral: how you’ll compensate for referrals and at what intervals you’ll be asking for more referrals. As you can imagine, after a while, the Referral System becomes self perpetuating as your clients become a part of the system. Invariably, they automatically begin referring clients to you as if its’ bragging rights. When it becomes a part of your no-brainer sales system, you will control one of the greatest income generators for your company!

Here are some methods of formulating a winning Referral System, all of which deal with working closely with your existing clients:
  • Provide clear demographics of the type of clients you’re looking for. Remember: in their well meaning, your clients may refer your worst nightmares because you didn’t provide a good profile.
  • Provide that unexpected great service to your clients and they will always return the favor.
  • Provide a rewards program such as a discount on their service, a gift, a lunch out.
  • Always follow up any referrals with a thank you letter, card or a phone call to let them you appreciate the effort they’ve made on your behalf.
  • Select clients as referral agents only if they’ll rave about you starting with your Top Ten.
  • Asking for referrals too early in your relationship could actually harm your relationship because your client may feel that you’re trying to take advantage of them. That’s a turn-off.
  • Always established a goal for your Referral System: how many in a month; quarterly, annually.

If you’ve completed a cost analysis on your Referral System, you’ll note that it’s cost you very little money. How cool is that! Remember, it’s not how much money you throw at it, it’s how you plan and execute your Sales Strategy and implement your Sales Tactics.

You Might Not Remember The Alamo But Never Forget The Platinum Rule
I can’t stress that in business, it’s all about people and gaining their trust. Whether it’s part of your Referral System, your Sales Strategy or your Sales Tactics, you must go into your relationships with clients using the Platinum Rule. “And what is the Platinum Rule?” you ask. Well, we’ve all heard of the Golden Rule: “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” It is one of the oldest rules from which our Constitution is based as well as the concepts behind international human rights.

In sales and business relations, the Platinum Rule goes one step further: “Treat others as they want to be treated.” This doesn’t mean kiss their butts and act like a wimpy “yes” man. It means respect your clients and provide them with what they need. It says “let me first understand what my client wants and then I’ll do the best I can in order to give it to them.” The results will be rewarding.

In the book, “Groundswell,” the authors speak about the trends business people need to be aware of when dealing with the new technology of marketing. Yet, much of what they speak of sounds a great deal like the Platinum Rule although they call it a three-stage process for gaining your customer’s trust. The stages include: listening, talking with your clients and energizing them. Energizing is getting your clients enthused enough to refer business your way. So, the more things change, the more they . . .

The guy who came up with the Platinum Rule is Tony Allesandra, PhD in Marketing and a well known sales and marketing consultant. You might say the Platinum Rule has the elements of the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” in it. But in this case, it has everything to do with establishing a strong, loyal, interactive client base. As we experienced the Medicine Wheel in dealing with people we work with, Dr. Allesandra studied clients in a similar manner and gave them different names. You’ll note; however, that the characteristics sound a bit identical!

Dr. Allesandra’s concepts of the Platinum Rule came about over a 30-year period of research and analysis, but the main idea of the Platinum Rule is understanding others and helping you to understand the best ways to work with them. He categorizes four different personality types: Director, Socializer, Relator, and Thinker. The following is an excerpt from his work.

Directors are driven by two governing needs: to control and achieve. Directors are goal-oriented go-getters who are most comfortable when they are in charge of people and situations. They want to accomplish many things now so they focus on no-nonsense approaches to bottom-line results. Directors seek expedience and are not afraid to bend the rules. They figure it is easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission. Directors accept challenges, take authority and plunge head first into solving problems. They are fast-paced, task-oriented and work quickly and impressively by themselves which means they become annoyed with delays. Directors are driven and dominating which can make them stubborn, impatient and insensitive to others. Directors are so focused that they forget to take the time to smell the roses.

Socializers are friendly, enthusiastic, “party animals” who like to be where the action is. They thrive on the admiration, acknowledgement and complements that come with being in the lime light. The Socializer’s primary strengths are enthusiasm, charm, persuasiveness and warmth. They are idea people and dreamers who excel at getting others excited about their vision. They are eternal optimists with an abundance of charisma. These qualities help them influence people and build alliances to accomplish their goals. Socializers do have their weaknesses: impatience, an aversion to being alone and a short attention span. Socializers are risk takers who base many of their decisions on intuition which is not inherently bad. Socializers are not inclined to verify information. They are more likely to assume someone else will do it.

Thinkers are analytical, persistent, systematic people who enjoy problem-solving. Thinkers are detail-oriented, which makes them more concerned with content than style. Thinkers are task-oriented people who enjoy perfecting processes and working toward tangible results. They’re always in control of their emotions and may become uncomfortable around people who are very outgoing such as Socializers. Thinkers have high expectations of themselves and others which can make them over-critical. Their tendency towards perfectionism-taken to an extreme can cause “paralysis by over-analysis.” Thinkers are slow and deliberate decision-makers. They do research, make comparisons, determine risks, calculate margins of error and then take action. Thinkers become irritated by surprises and glitches, hence their cautious decision-making. Thinkers are also skeptical, so they like to see promises in writing.

Relaters are warm and nurturing individuals. They are the most people-oriented of the four styles. Relaters are excellent listeners, devoted friends and loyal employees. Their relaxed disposition makes them approachable and warm. They develop strong networks of people who are willing to be mutually supportive and reliable.  Relaters are excellent team players. Relaters are risk-aversive. In fact, Relaters may tolerate unpleasant environments rather than risk change. They like the status quo and become distressed when disruptions are severe. When faced with change, they think it through, plan, and accept it into their world. Relaters more than the other types strive to maintain personal composure, stability and balance. In the office, Relaters are courteous, friendly, and willing to share responsibilities. They are good planners, persistent workers and good with follow through. Relaters go along with others even when they do not agree because they do not want to rock the boat.
Relating to the Four Types in Business
Directors are very time sensitive so never waste their time. Be organized and get to the point. Give them bottom line information and options with probabilities of success if relevant. Give them written details to read at their leisure. Directors are goal-oriented so appeal to their sense of accomplishment. Stroke their egos by supporting their ideas and acknowledge their power and prestige. Let Directors call the shots. If you disagree, argue with facts and feelings. In groups allow them to have their say because they are not the type who will take a back seat to others. With Directors in general, be efficient and competent.

Socializers thrive on personal recognition so pour it on sincerely. Support their ideas, goals, opinions and dreams. Try not to argue with their pie-in-the-sky visions; show a little enthusiasm and encourage their creativity. Socializers are social butterflies so be ready to flutter around with them. A strong presence, stimulating and entertaining conversation, jokes and liveliness will win them over. They are people-oriented, so give them time to socialize. Avoid rushing into tasks. With Socializers be interested in them.

Relaters are slow decision-makers for several reasons: 1. their need for security; 2. their need to avoid risk and 3. their desire to include others in the decision-making process. Relaters are relationship-oriented, want warm and fuzzy relationships, so take things slow, earn their trust, support their feelings and show sincere interest. Talk in terms of feelings not facts which is the opposite of the strategy for Thinkers. Relaters don’t want to ruffle feathers. They want to be assured that everyone will approve of them and their decisions. Give them time to solicit co-workers opinions. Never back a Relater into a corner. It is far more effective to apply warmth to get their chicken out of its egg than to crack the shell with a hammer. With Relaters, be non-threatening and sincere.

Thinkers are time-disciplined, so be sensitive to their time. They need details, so give them data. Support Thinkers in their organized, thoughtful approach to problem-solving. Be systematic, logical, well-prepared and exact with them. Give them time to make decisions and work independently. Allow them to talk in detail. In work groups, do not expect Thinkers to be leaders or outspoken contributors, but do rely on them to conduct research, crunch numbers and perform detailed foot work for the group. If appropriate, set guidelines and exact deadlines. Thinkers like to be complimented on their brain power, so recognize their contributions accordingly. With Thinkers, be thorough, well prepared, detail oriented and business like.

The Bottom Line in Understanding Personalities In Relation to the Platinum Rule
Understanding people is a vital – if not the most vital – component of your business success. Given that we are all different, our clients will react in different ways to how we approach the relationship. By understanding these four personality types, it gives us a better way to serve our clients and build a long term relationship. There is no value and even a negative turn of events when you try to build a relationship solely on your set of standards, values and comfort level. As Dr. Allessandra concludes: “The Platinum rule provides powerful life skills that will serve you well in all your relationships: business, friends, family, spouse and children. Improved relationships create infinite possibilities. Sometimes I think of John Lennon’s song, “Imagine.” One of the verses could be: “Imagine there’s no conflict, it’s easy if you try.”

What About You? Are You Ready to Sell?
There’s nothing that says you have to be an extrovert to excel at sales. The key ingredients are your passion for what you’re selling, and your ability to hear your client’s needs. Having been around hundreds of sales people I can clue you in to what I’ve observed as the best characteristics for an effective, compassionate sales person.
  1. Integrity is a critical factor, perhaps the most important one for sales, because your business must build itself on clients who are committed to you in the long term. When a client is happy about a sale, you’ve established a trust factor that only comes from the integrity you’ve shown during the sales cycle. And this trust will continue to bring that client back to you.

  1. Commitment to your company’s sales strategy and tactics. This requires patience and the ability to multi-task several clients at the same time. It is your commitment to take action and initiate new prospects and build your referral system. Sometimes a sale may take months to complete and it is your commitment to see that process to its conclusion is critical which will gain integrity to your company’s overall image.

  1. Passion you have for what you do and the product/service you’re selling. You can’t fake passion and your customers will get it right away. You’ll make it easier on your clients to select your business when your passion comes out. This doesn’t mean ranting and raving but it does mean showing your expertise, thoroughness and commitment to your business. That’s what clients what from their vendors – standing 100 percent behind their product/service!

  1. Creativity means bringing solutions to your clients that shows insight and a unique vision to your work. Anyone can leave behind business cards and a few trinkets! Think differently and make your company standout. It does take more work in the beginning but what you’re actually doing is creating a sales system that can be repeated and constantly improved upon. The more you practice your creativity, the better you’ll get.

  1. Tenacity to stay the course, having the courage to go on even after a series of failed sales attempts because you believe in what you’re doing even if not exactly right yet. Failed attempts means you either have a confusing message or your clients don’t need what you have. These insights should help you right the wrong and move forward. Tenacity in sales is essential because in the majority of sales cycle, the customer needs to be convinced that you are the right solution.

  1. System-oriented so that there is a logical and planned method to how you conduct your sales strategy and tactics. This requires you to set up a system that provides a guide for you to follow:
    • Establishing a method of searching for clients
    • The process of understanding your client’s needs
    • Research methods for both the client and the solutions
    • Establishing presentations that are relevant and on point
    • Assuring your company is in control of the sales process
    • A process that goes through the process and asks for the sale
    • Follow-up process to assure the client’s satisfaction

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Lessons 10 & 11: Marketing to A Niche Market

Don't Imitate, Instead Innovate and Cause Havoc
Peter Drucker, one of the most influential thinkers of the Western business world, once said that business can be broken down into just two main tasks: innovation and marketing. And without a doubt, innovation and marketing are best developed when you gain the knowledge, implement that knowledge, analyze the results (feedback), and then implement your improved knowledge (or innovation). In other words: you have to get out there and do it and see what works. It is a constant process that changes with your accumulating experiences and the technologies that will influence your industry.

Keep this in mind: the knowledge you gain isn’t always going to serve you well unless you keep your target audience in mind at all times. Think of marketing as an innovation in and of itself. Don’t try to imitate the big boys because you can’t win in their arena. Instead, think of Star Wars and the rebel uprising against the evil empire, think of the way in which Barack Obama rose to the presidency and think how the status quo is not really your friend in business—as a small business—because it’s based on the paradigms and rules of big, fat corporations. Small businesses win when they buck the system and come up with stuff that catches the status quo by surprise! This has been referred to as “Disruptive Innovation.”

Clayton Christensen, Harvard professor and author of several books and articles on disruptive innovation, called it “in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves ‘up market,’ eventually displacing established competitors.” He goes on to say:

An innovation that is disruptive allows a whole new population of consumers access to a product or service that was historically only accessible to consumers with a lot of money or a lot of skills. (Mainframe computers vs. personal computers; record stores vs. iTunes downloads; Internet marketing versus print media; postal services vs. email) Characteristics of disruptive businesses, at least in their initial stages, can include: lower gross margins, smaller target markets, and simpler products and services that may not appear as attractive as existing solutions when compared against traditional performance metrics.

Seth Godin, one of my favorite marketing gurus and a champion of disruptive innovation, had this interesting way of looking at how companies market themselves (November, 2009):

So if it’s true that to a person with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, the really useful question is, “What sort of hammer do you have?”

At big TV networks, they have a TV hammer. At a surgeon’s office, they have the scalpel hammer. A drug counselor has the talk hammer, while a judge probably has the jail hammer.

Maybe, it’s time for a new hammer . . .

When the market changes, you may be seeing all the new opportunities and problems in the wrong way because of the solutions you’re used to. The reason so many organizations have trouble using social media is that they are using precisely the wrong hammer. And odds are, they will continue to do so until their organization fails. PR firms try to use the new tools to send press releases, because, you guessed it, that’s their hammer.

The best way to find the right tool for the job is to learn to be good at switching hammers.

So Think Different, Think Fresh, Think Social Media
            Think of your knowledge as a critical ingredient for innovation because you know more than you think. But it’s necessary to keep learning to advance your company’s offering and make it resonate with your customers. It may not happen immediately, but with marketing content that addresses your customers’ needs and as their trust in you grows, your message will be heard.

And now, you’ve also got one other huge consideration that can be advantageous and possibly detrimental. It’s the power of the voices on the Internet—or social media. Even if your business isn’t on the Internet (which would be an absurd mistake), your customers are talking about you, writing reviews, and providing unsolicited opinions and insights to other potential customers. You can’t stop it, can’t control it, and it’s gaining in power and influence. It means that you may not be the biggest influence on how people see your company. It also means you can have many powerful allies singing your praises.

Your company’s image is now in the hands of those who have experienced a relationship with you or even just a glancing minute. Many companies who have either lagged behind in their technology or disregarded the Internet have come to hate these new avenues because it has changed the playing field. Internet commentaries are growing organically by users to help others navigate the treacherous world of shopping for products and services. But your company can take advantage of this phenomenon by maintaining its client-centric posture and making sure that you’re doing your best to satisfy each customer who comes through your door—even if they don’t buy anything.

Quite simply, marketing has two components: a compelling message to bring in your targeted client base and the mechanism to gauge and respond to customer input. When carried out successfully, you’ll have paying customers who will come back regularly.

Definitions of Marketing
            To be sure, marketing is the representation of your company to the outside world. Marketing is the way you want the public to view your company. It is greater than advertising, greater than your public relations or your referral system, and far more than establishing your niche client base. It is, however, all these things working in a synergistic methodology. It is your job to find that happy medium where the quantity and quality of your marketing materials is in right proportion to attract your customer base. And in each and every one of these efforts, the message must be kept consistent and simple. Otherwise it will confuse your audience, and confused audiences will not buy from you. Simultaneously, it’s imperative that you are also building the internal system and culture for you and your workers in order to carry forth with your marketing message. If you don’t do what you say you’ll do, the consequences will be severe.

I’m assuming that you have a very limited budget, so what we are about to venture into doesn’t require a rich uncle or a third job flipping burgers on the graveyard shift. It does require some elbow grease, attention to detail, and devotion to follow-through. Also, let’s make one thing clear: marketing is not a one-night stand. It’s like an engine with eight pistons, each representing one component of the whole. Each of the pistons requires periodic fine tuning and sometimes an entire overhaul when the results begin to diminish. You might say that successful marketing is like a long happy marriage: after the honeymoon, it’s not always a bed of roses but if both of you are willing to work on it, give it a little pizzazz here and there, and you’re committed to sticking with it, then you’ll work on getting to the answers rather than making excuses and neglecting it to failure.

In this section, you’ll be faced with a bunch of questions; some of which are generic to your quest for marketing excellence, some to help focus your new business through information gathering, and some that are specific to your marketing strategy. Keep in mind that these questions, although not always direct to your business plan, are integral to the content of your marketing section. Reframe some of these questions in order to make them relevant to your business plan. Remember to be diligent with your research and answers because, one day, you might be making the next best thing since sliced bread.

The Legend of Sliced Bread
            Did you know the guy who invented sliced bread originally couldn’t get anyone to buy his machine or his sliced bread? Seems he had a bit of bad luck, didn’t listen well enough to the feedback, or take the time to step into the shoes of his potential customers—the Platinum Rule again. Otto Rohwedder, a Midwestern jeweler, first came up with the idea in 1912. Otto invented the machine but couldn’t get anyone interested because housewives immediately saw the flaw: the bread dried up too quickly once sliced. But he knew his invention was a good one, and finally, after four years, he decided his invention needed some changes. So passionate was he about sliced bread that he sold his three jewelry stores so he could tinker with his invention. But in 1917, a fire burned down his factory and destroyed the machine and the blueprints. It took Otto another eight years before he could save enough money and convince enough investors to start up again. Talk about devotion and passion!

It wasn’t until 1926— a full 14 years since Otto first invented the machine—that he filed for a patent with an improved design that sliced and wrapped the bread in one motion to keep the moisture in. But even at that, Otto’s invention still hadn’t hit the big times because he was marketing the machine as a technical innovation, not a solution to better living, or easier food preparation. It took Continental Bakers, makers of Wonder Bread, in 1930 to parlay Otto’s technical prowess into a perspective that spoke to mothers, who were the real audience. The bread was wrapped in an appealing rainbow of balloons against a clean white background inspired by an international balloon race in Indianapolis. It was attractive and fresh-looking, something that mothers believed to be important. It also had the slogan, “Helps build strong bodies 8 ways,” and who wouldn’t want their children to have healthy bodies. Note that Wonder Bread was about the content, not the technology. These along with the convenience of sliced bread made Wonder Bread one of the top national brands.

            What’s the moral of this story? The greatest invention since sliced bread is only as good as what the consumer perceives as a value to them. Without a marketing plan that carefully captures your targeted customers in a compelling way, there is no market to start out with. A good way to think about your marketing strategies is to use the six Sticky Principles as your guide. (Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath, Random House, ©2007) In their book, the Heath brothers make a case for a systematic approach to getting your message across. While it can be applied to different disciplines, its application to your marketing contents is critical. The book is based on an on-going research told through stories to illustrate six points with a memorable acronym: SUCCESs. Below is an excerpt from the book in briefly describing the principles.

The Principles of Sticky Ideas
Principle #1: SimplicityHow do we find the central core of our ideas? A successful defense lawyer says, “If you argue ten points, even if each is a good point, when they get back to the jury room they won’t remember any.” To strip an idea down to its core, we must be masters of exclusion. (The concept of the Personal Mission Statement) We must relentlessly prioritize. We must create ideas that are both simple and profound. The Golden Rule is the ultimate model of simplicity: a one-sentence statement so profound that an individual could spend a lifetime learning how to follow it.

Principle #2: UnexpectednessHow do we get our audience to pay attention to our ideas and how do we maintain their interest when we need time to get the ideas across? We need to violate people’s expectations. We need to be counterintuitive. We can use surprise—an emotion whose function is to increase alertness and cause focus. But surprise doesn’t last. For our idea to endure, we must generate interest and curiosity. We can engage people’s curiosity over a long period by systematically “opening gaps” in their knowledge—and then filling the gap.

Principle #3: ConcretenessHow do we make our ideas clear? We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information. This is where so much business communications goes awry. Mission statements, synergies, strategies, visions—they are often ambiguous to the point of being meaningless. Naturally sticky ideas are full of concrete images because our brains are wired to remember concrete data. Speaking concretely is the only way to ensure that our idea will mean the same thing to everyone in our audience.

Principle #4: CredibilityHow do we make people believe in our ideas? Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials. We need ways to help people test our ideas for themselves—a “try before you buy” philosophy for the world of ideas. When we’re trying to build a case for something, most of us instinctively grasp for hard numbers. In many cases this is exactly the wrong approach. In the sole presidential debate between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, Reagan could have cited innumerable statistics demonstrating the sluggishness of the economy. Instead he made one simple statement: “Before you vote, ask yourself if you are better off today than you were four years ago.”

Principle #5: EmotionsHow do we get people to care about our ideas? We make them feel something. Research shows that people are more likely to make a charitable gift to a single needy individual than to an entire impoverished region. We are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions. Sometimes, the hard part is finding the right emotion to harness. For instance, it’s difficult to get teenagers to quit smoking by instilling in them a fear of the consequences, but it’s easier to get them to quit by tapping into their resentment of the duplicity of Big Tobacco.

Principle #6: StoriesHow do we get people to act on our ideas? We tell stories. Firefighters naturally swap stories after every fire, and by doing so, they multiply their experience; after years of hearing stories, they have a richer, more complete mental catalog of critical situations they might confront during a fire and the appropriate response to those situations. Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter that situation in the physical environment. Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.

Marketing your business will be a new experience. So don’t freak out before you get started. Remember, in our entrepreneurial world, Rule #1 is always “Action Creates Knowledge.” This means you’ve got to get down and dirty with new ideas and instigate new experiences. A key point: think about those board games when you were young. You had to learn how to play, but once you got going, it was a blast! Marketing is an adult game. Remember, the more times you play the game, the better you’ll get and the more fun you’ll have (maybe even an addictive challenge—which happened to me all the time). Why it might even make you smarter and grow more brain cells! Actually, the latest scientific evidence says it will! So, know some ground rules:
  • You’re the tortoise, not the hare, and if you don’t stop being so impatient, you won’t last.
  • Life is truly short, so stick to your life plan, PMS, and stick to the core idea of your business
  • Think cheap, think urban guerilla, think anti status quo, think your daily dose of innovation.
  • Listen very closely to your customers; they’re actually in charge of your marketing arm.
  • Don’t burn bridges, ever; instead build them constantly—friends will help you grow.
  • Your marketing subtitle: “Truth in Unexpected Simplicity,” then make it so for your clients.
  • In the end, it’s all about trust—your customers’ trust; trust in yourself to do the right thing.

It begins with a single step and it gets better only if you keep moving
The problem with newspaper advertising is that it’s too general especially for new businesses and small businesses. That’s why Internet advertising has taken off and grown into the biggest venue for ads. Small companies love how it can segment to a particular crowd, and its audience becomes so much larger! Besides, there are so many tools on the Internet that are cheap or free, why pay for lousy coverage? Newspapers—relying on ad dollars—will all die.

Trust, however, is the overriding factor in marketing; and that takes a while. An old-time entrepreneur I knew decided to take his work to Hawaii. For the first two years, all he did was visit his potential clients and provide information and assistance without making one sale. He even made family visits and brought cookies for the kids. I was astounded by his tenacity and level of service so I asked him about it.

“There’s simplicity here,” he said. “People in Hawaii do business with each other because they’ve known each other for decades, so they’ve built trust through their own personal experiences. Being from the mainland, I have to build that trust and confidence and show that I’m here to stay. It’s like a test to see if I’ll fit into their ‘Ohana’ (family).” In the end, he won their trust and gained many clients, most of whom were referrals.

That’s the kind of longevity you’ll want to practice because long-term clients means happy clients who will stick by you, rave about you, and love to refer other customers to you. Be very conscious about this because it will prove to be your best source of business. Of course, you’re thinking, “Well, I need customers immediately to get started!” Two things: use the Internet for your marketing focus and start building a network of referrals now!

I’m talking about right now; in class, with your classmates because at this moment, there is no better referral possibility than those who are going through the same experience with you towards entrepreneurship. The relationships you build because of the closeness and like-minded bonding you’re doing in class is a great way to build your referral system.

The Internet As Your Marketing Buddy, But First . . .
In their bestselling book entitled Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, (Harvard Business Press ©2008) of Forester Research, the authors make the argument that there is no way for companies to survive in today’s market without a comprehensive understanding of both the undercurrent culture and the burgeoning fundamental change in Internet behavior. They define groundswell as “a social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations.”

Wow! Now that's a statement that'll strike fear in traditional business owners. It means your influence can no longer be fluffy words alone; it must be a compelling message followed by world-class performance because the Internet is an open book that has a worldwide audience.

Moreover, they make the argument that even though the technologies are rapidly advancing, it is not the technologies that companies must focus on, but rather the people who make up the forces using these technologies. Their key principle for mastering the groundswell: “concentrate on the relationships, not the technologies.” (Ahh! Your ability to meet your client’s needs)

Like Swimming Against A Tidal Wave?
            The groundswell has essentially democratized information so that anyone with Internet access can initiate and respond to whatever is on their minds including how they feel about your company. These are then compiled in user-interest sites as well as hundreds of other sites by any group of users who may believe the information to be relevant to their specific interest. In the case for business, it is one thing to market the virtues of your work but another thing altogether when one or more users write their reviews. In many cases, the glorification of your company dies quickly to the biting words of a nasty review.

While you can fight back with your own words in defense, the best defense is never to get yourself in a situation where your reviewers are trashing the crap out of you. More and more, every business, every product and every service has some sort of review on the Internet, and consumers are using these reviews more often than ever as part of their buying decision process.

But companies such as Amazon are setting up their own review portals to allow users to make comments about their experience with them. In February 2009, BusinessWeek ranked Amazon as the best customer experience on the web. So in this case, encouraging user reviews is a highly-effective marketing tool that required only a feedback portal. The rest was supplied by the surge of users. Check out your buying experience on Amazon and analyze how their website works for you. Their tools and their respect for their clients are unsurpassed.

In order for Amazon to build a loyal customer base who raves about their service, a number of internal functions had to be considered. First and foremost was to make sure the employees understood what was expected of them by communicating what was to lie ahead. Next, they established the operational procedures that would provide the resources necessary for their employees to produce excellent service. And lastly, Amazon had to build the technical system to streamline their operations. One important change was in allowing their customer service representatives to make most decisions without having to tell their clients: “I’ll have to ask my supervisor about that.”

According to Pew American Internet Study, a survey released in March 2009 showed that 91 percent of the users logging onto the Internet were there to search for something. Search was tied with email as the number one online activity.

The speed at which search engines can help you find what you need is superior to thumbing through the Yellow Pages or looking for ads in the paper. Advertisers are taking advantage of this electronic resource to the point that many newspapers, for instance, have an electronic version of their daily printouts. By so doing, they are creating their own hard copy demise.

The Internet Technologies That Influence
            So in order to work with the people creating the groundswell, it’s also important for entrepreneurs to understand the various technologies being utilized and growing constantly. Among these are blogs, social networking sites (SNS), wikis, forums, tags, really simple syndication (RSS), widgets, and twitter.
Blogs: these are personal or group entries into an electronic journal. This can take the form of a written document, a video or an audio segment, or all three. Articles you write no longer require strict guidelines or extensive approval procedures from an editor; you just publish it yourself on one of the thousands of blog sites. Here are three sites that give you access to many of the blogs: http://www.blogcatalog.com/, www.googleblog.blogspot.com, www.blogtopsites.com.You can also go to Google’s own site for an explanation on how to use blogs: http://googlesitesblog.blogspot.com/. YouTube is an example of “user-generated” video site that reaches millions of viewers worldwide. There are thousands of blog sites geared for every possible niche and interest. Blogs encourage comments and feedback on their specific topics. According to Groundswell blogs are read and/or viewed by 25 percent of all American Internet users, making it one of the most popular online activities.
Blogs are inherent in their culture for feedback, citing each other’s work, in adding links to other blogs and building relationships. This environment of interaction is called a “blogosphere” in which any given topic is trailed by a stream of comments, feedbacks, and links.
Since blogs are unregulated and users follow no formal set of guides, some of the information may contain lies and rumors without conflict-of-interest disclosures. This would pertain to your new company as bloggers start to write their opinions about your new enterprise. It’s always a good idea to first read and listen to what’s being said about your company before reacting. Blog search engines such as Google Blog Search, BlogSearchEngine.com, and Technorati.com will make it easier for you to see what others are saying about you on their blogs.
You can start replying to the comments with your own comments or even start your own blog as many companies have done. In this way, you’re able not only to initiate contact with the public but also introduce new concepts and test out new ideas. YouTube has been an effective, cheap method for many companies to introduce or market their products and services using the ever popular video format giving credence to the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words.
Social Networking: A social network is an online community of people who share interests and/or activities. Most social networks are web-based (accessible through a web address) and provide a variety of ways for users to interact with each other such as email and instant messaging. Social networking has created new ways to communicate and share information because most of them are open source—meaning they allow programmers to improve upon or add new features for communication. Social networks are used regularly by millions of people with the most popular being those connecting friends, former classmates, and recommender systems linked to trust. The most popular methods are those that incorporate various methods such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and MySpace.
According to Nielsen Online, an Internet research company, Facebook is the most popular social networking site with a 566 percent increase from December 2007 to December 2008. This translates to over 108 million visitors worldwide during December 2008. MySpace was second with 81 million.
Social networks are maintained by members of these sites who write up their own profiles, write comments and provide feedback. One of the most popular activities is “friend-ing” which allows people to acknowledge relationships and keep updated on their friends and acquaintances. According to Groundswell, one in four American adults visits these sites at least monthly. However, social networking has proven to be an addicting activity for some users who visit several times a day roaming about to see what new individuals, postings or activities have been added. Among teens, 22 percent stated they visited daily according to a Forrester Research study conducted in 2007. Social networking is also the top Internet activity for college-aged users.
For businesses, social networks can connect people at a low cost where these networks act as a customer relationship management tool. These are used to provide information on products and services as well as placing advertising in the form of banners and text ads which of course, are viewed globally—far superior to placing an ad in the Yellow Pages or your local newspaper. LinkedIn is a rapidly growing site for businesses where users connect with each other for a variety of business and personal reasons. Some 36 million contacts in 200 countries use LinkedIn.
Social networks are broken down into two categories: Internal Social Networking (ISN) and External Social Networking (ESN). An ISN is a closed or private community consisting of groups of people within a company, association, or social group. An ESN is open to the public and available to all web users. It can either be a niche site such as knitters, golfers, yoga enthusiasts or as broad and open as Facebook and MySpace.

Wikis: Wikis are information websites maintained by Internet users. Wiki is a Hawaiian word for “quick” and refers to the ease at which individuals are capable of making contributions, changes, and maintaining the contents of the website. The wiki is supported by multiple contributors with a shared responsibility for servicing the site usually containing word and graphics. The largest wiki site is Wikipedia, a nonprofit encyclopedia with over two million articles. It is considered the eighth most visited site on the Internet.
            A wiki invites all users to edit any page or to create new pages using a simple web browser. The wiki also promotes associations between different pages by making page links to compatible subjects. The wiki is open to all but according to Groundswell, only six percent of the users make contributions while over 22 percent use it.

A critical characteristic of the wiki technology is the ease at which pages can be created and altered. Generally, there is no review whether you log in or not. However, as a legitimate contributor, it is always beneficial to sign in as the author. Surprisingly, even without its regulatory protocol, the great majority of information on the wikis comes from users with a sincere quest to providing accurate information. The beauty of the technology allows for near-real time changes meaning that alternations can be seen almost instantaneously. However there are private wikis that require users to sign in and wait for a review before the article is posted.  

As a new company, you too can contribute your own wiki as a service to your clients. Check out: www.wikihow.com. For instance, eBay has a wiki for sellers and buyers to provide advice on selling and buying various articles. Reuters built a wiki to help its readers create a financial glossary (www.glossary.reuters.com).

Forums: Forums are the oldest forms of social technology—even predating the Internet. They are online discussion sites on just about any subject imaginable. Forums require you to sign up and log in to post your comments. The most popular forums are those that recommend, rate, review and discuss products and services. Forums are so prevalent that it’s a given that most sites will offer a forum as part of their presence. They do, however, have a set of rules for participation that must be adhered to.

Forums are started by a user on a particular subject. A thread begins where someone else will comment which then continues as advice, questions, and opinions are voiced by other readers and contributors. But the most popular forums are taking the form of reviews. Amazon.com was the first to use reviews as a way to get consumer involvement and leverage reviews as a sales and marketing tool. Now, many major retail sites have join the movement. They will even email you with a link to their review page. This not only helps the retailer to get feedback on what you’ve purchased, but it provides a way for the retailer to get you back to their site for another possible sale.

Online reviews have become an automatic part of the buying process for many consumers now with one in four Americans using review sites in order to make a decision. The impact of reviews has changed the playing field for most businesses. In the past, the business only had to convince a professional reviewer of the quality of his product who would then write a lone review. Now, consumers are weighing in with their own experiences and posting those to the appropriate websites. There are two types of review sites: the independent review site such as Yelp and the commercially-loaded sites that contain banner ads and links to “recommended” stores. The latter is really a retail portal and not a true review site.

Twitter: This is a short blogging service acting as a social network. It allows users to send and read other users updates known as “tweets.” Tweets are text-based postings containing a maximum of 140 characters. Updates are displayed on the user’s profile page and delivered to other users who have signed up to receive them. Users can send and receive updates via the Twitter website or on their cell phones using Short Message Service (SMS) or on their web browser through Really Simple Syndication (RSS) web feeds which can be added to your personalized opening web pages on Google and Yahoo.

One of the most famous Twitter users is President Barack Obama. According to Forester Research, Twitter is ranked only behind Facebook and MySpace with about 55 million visitors a month.

For your business, you can use Twitter to let your customers know of any updates to your services and products in this quick format which can direct them to a website providing more extensive information.

The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same
There should be no question in your mind that the use of Internet marketing tools is a necessity for your business. First and foremost, they are easy to use and simple for your clients to access. They are primarily open forums that give control to the users and that’s exactly what you want. While technology and the Internet are providing a level of marketing unprecedented, through all the new wording, slogans and technical innovations, what you’ll discover is that a successful business comes down to your ability to listen to your clients and satisfy their needs. That’s it. The difference is that today, you either use the technology or you die because your clients are already using the technology.

Six Months Down the Road
Okay, now let’s look ahead—six months in business and you’ve established a small customer base. You’re starting to know your clients and you’ve made some logical adjustments to your business. At this point, I would recommend a formal sit-down with yourself and some of your colleagues to examine what’s happened so far. By doing so, you’ll begin to take inventory of reactions from clients and potential clients. This will provide a method of fine tuning your message. At this juncture, you‘ll want to reflect and begin to memorialize your experiences into a reformation of your marketing strategy. For instance; in my startups, a period of 6 months up to a year gave me much better insights through my interactions with my clients and, if I had any, with my employees. These will help in:

  1. Distinguishing yourself with niche advertising to your client base that educates; providing information that is useful to your customers. Of course, you’ll need to get a great assessment of what your clients are looking for! If you follow the Made to Stick principles, your ads and your messages would include examples of successful stories from clients. Testimonials add believability. But don’t expect your ads to get people to buy right away. First, they’ll need to warm up to you; get to know you. So at this point, they’re “prospects.” Once they’ve made contact with you or show an interest in your business, they now have given you permission to sell to them. (Don’t forget creativity and imagination in your headlines because that’s the first thing the reader will see—80 percent of your attraction will originate from the headline.)
  2. Fine tuning your niche market. If you started your business based on the concept that you cannot be all things to all people but you can be a welcome resource for a specific body of people, then your next step is to re-examine the niche you’ve selected. This may mean firing some clients and it may be broadening your niche to include a different audience. Also note that specialization allows you to provide value that’s worth more to your niche clients so that your distinct offerings do not have to compete on price. But make it a fair price—your clients know!
  3. Ask your best customers to speak on your behalf. There’s an interesting phenomenon that happens with happy customers: they want to see you succeed and they want to be a part of it especially if they see you working hard to make your new business a success. So don’t be afraid to ask for referrals. In fact, you can make that a part of your marketing program and to the point that doing business with you requires your clients to make referrals. When you train your clients to work as your champions, they’ll take that as part of their relationship to you!
  4. Concentrate on serving your existing clients. It is far easier to gain more business from your existing clients than constantly seeking new clients. Make it a point of your marketing strategy that referrals will be the bulk of your new business. In order to make this work, it means that your existing clients must be satisfied first and foremost. (In my companies, our goal was always 70 percent new business from referrals. Not only did this give us a format for doing business, it established a client-centric culture that dictated how everyone in the company was to treat our clients. In the end, it was a lot cheaper than having to constantly search for new business.)

Analyzing Where You Stand Within Your Industry
So in order to get to the future, we need to return to the beginning. First, see how you fit into your industry. Usually, your best search will be on Google. That is, if you haven’t researched the specific websites for your industry yet. Since you’ve come this far with your business concepts, you’re going into this section with a reasonable definition about your new company, about yourself and your future. These are all important because consistency of what you put forth in your marketing plan must remain constant in each of your marketing tactics. And it’s worth repeating: make sure whatever you put forth to the public, it jives with your code of ethics, your principles and the goals for your GPS. Otherwise, you’ll send a confusing message to your potential audience, you’ll be constantly questioning yourself and you’ll end up with zilch.

As you conduct your research within your industry, ask yourself:
  • Is my industry a rising or falling star? What is the long-term forecast?
  • What associations are available to me to seek information and/or join?
  • What are the innovations going on that I must incorporate now or later when I can afford it?
  • What are the trends that make the most sense to me? What are trends to avoid?
  • What trends fit my company profile from which I can make immediate profits?
  • With what my business is, how unique is my product/service in comparison to the rest?
  • What companies can I emulate? And what could I learn to do better from them?
  • Who are the local stars that I can look at and learn from?
  • Are there mentorship programs or helpful programs for new businesses?
  • Is there a website that can help me to estimate my startup costs, pricing strategy, etc.
  • Are there similar industries that will provide additional information?

The idea is to get really well acquainted with your industry and understand it from the inside out. This way, you’ll be able to guide your business where it makes the most sense and the most profits. In the worst case scenario, you may find that it’s heading for the dumpster which of course, means “thank god!” you did the research.

Establishing Your First Target Market
            Your target market guides you in your sales effort. This is the second phase of your marketing plan. Here you can get detailed, and I would recommend that you be as specific as possible without going into “analysis paralysis.” So how much is too much research? When you realize that the real reason you’re doing more research is because you’re scared shitless about launching. At that point, it’s time to launch. No, you probably won’t feel ready but no one ever does. What you’ll find as I said about the six-month review is that your best answers will come once you’ve launched. Real experiences in your new business will tell you which way to go. The following is a list of the areas to consider for researching your target market:
                        Audience Demographic Checklist
                        Age Group   Gender   Profession   Education level
                        Household Income   Marital status   Geographic location

                        Corporate Customer Checklist
                        Number of Employees   Physical Locations   Products and Services They Provide
                        Annual Revenue   Number, Size and Location of Branches   Website
                        Year Founded   Key Personnel   If Publicly Traded, Annual Report

                        Psychographic Checklist
                        Conservative   Liberal   Conformist   Environment-friendly   Socially Conscious
                        Growth Oriented   Fun Loving   Cutting Edge   Trend Follower   Fashion Forward
                        Family Oriented

                        Corporate Clientele Psychographic Profile
                                                 (If your target market is made up of corporate customers, which of the following psychographic categories fit them?)
                        Market Leader   Innovative or Cutting Edge   Liberal   Conservative
                        Environment Friendly   Employee/Family Friendly   Fast Growing/Adopt New Ideas
                       Stable/Set in Their Ways   Growth Stage (Startup, Growth, Stable or Decline)
                        Type of Workforce Employed
                        Who in the business are you selling to?
                        What department do they represent, what management level?
                        Are there common characteristics of a certain department that you can identify?
                        What are the common characteristics of the management team?
                        What is the company culture?
                        What is the management style?
                        What trade associations do they belong to?
                        What publications do they subscribe to?

                                                 (These are the factors that identify the motivation or reasons why someone wants to buy your product or service.)
                        What benefit is the customer looking for?
                        How often will they purchase?
                        What is the decision-making process?

What Factors Are Most Important to Your Customers?
Item                                                   Very Important      Somewhat Important      Not Important
Brand Names
Customer Service
Broad Array of Services
Broad Array of Products
Friendly Staff
Internet Ease
Informative Website
Discounts and Sales
Attractive Packaging
Convenient Locations
Store/Office Appearance
Convenience of Product
Convenience of Service
Technical Assistance
Flexible Payment Terms
Once you’ve identified your target market, place all your emphasis on marketing to them. Believe in the 80-20 Rule. Eighty percent of your revenues will always come from the top 20 percent of your clients. The 20 percent represents your target market. The other 80 percent is essentially “lookie-loos” who will take up too much time and provide you with only 20 percent of your income.