Archive for 'Sales'

From Chris Anderson’s “The Long Tail” Blog:
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I’ve been following the debate started by Brian Solis about “social media press releases” and other forms of doing PR in a way that both works in a conversational medium and doesn’t demean and insult the intelligence of everyone involved. As far as traditional media goes, I suspect none of this matters much–most journalists have long ago figured how to quickly decide if they have any interest in a press release and how best to extract whatever value is in it. The system is no more or less broken than it’s always been.

But what about the Long Tail of media–all those new influentials, from the micromedia of Techcrunch and Gizmodo to individual bloggers? And the social news aggregators like Digg and our own Reddit? They’re where the most powerful sort of marketing–word of mouth–starts, but most of them don’t want to hear from a PR person at all. Blogging is all about authenticity and the individual voice, not paid spin. Many bloggers seem just impedance mismatched with the preternaturally positive PR professionals, and woe to the flack who’s busted trying to game Digg without revealing that they’re paid to do so.

So now imagine that you’re one of those PR professionals. What do you do? Stick with the world you know, and continue calling and emailing releases to the traditional press (trying not to notice that their ranks are shrinking and influence waning)? Start spamming bloggers, too, and hope for the best? Or just treat alpha bloggers like traditional press and shower them with love, while ignoring the rest?

I’ve seen all three of those paths taken, some of them even with modest success. Despite the culture mismatch, there certainly are plenty of bloggers who actually don’t mind hearing from a PR person, as long as it’s in the form of a personal email or comment that reflects that the flack actually reads the blog and gets what it’s about. And companies such as Microsoft and Sun are now shifting their PR strategy to give special attention to influential bloggers, inviting them to private briefings and giving them early looks at new products.

But fundamentally social media is a peer-to-peer medium; bloggers would rather hear from someone doing something cool than from the paid promotional representative for that person. The problem is that the people doing that cool stuff are busy, which is why they pay PR people to do the outreach for them in the first place.

I wonder whether the solution to this is to evolve the role of PR from external relations to internal relations, from communications to coaching employees on how to effectively do the outreach themselves. Take Microsoft’s 3,000 bloggers who are, for many of us, a welcome substitute for Microsoft PR. Internal project managers like Major Nelson of the Xbox 360 team are a trusted and timely source of information, and have largely replaced the formal press release with blog posts. He and other Microsoft bloggers like him are part of a transparency movement that grew out of the company’s developer relations team, but it could have just as easily been driven by an enlightened PR team.

Here’s a start at a curriculum for such in-house social media coaching:

  • Who’s influential in our space (and how we know)
  • What/who influences them
  • How to get Digged
  • Effective blogging
  • Using beta-test invite lists as marketing
  • The art of begging for links
  • Stunts, contests, gimmicks, memes and other link bait.
  • Sharing versus oversharing. How to know when what you’re doing is ready to talk about.

UPDATE: I’ve been chatting with some magazine people about how this would apply to our own industry’s PR. Here’s what I said:

Having just come from running a Sundance panel on how to use social media to get buzz for independent films, I can say that there’s no substitute for plain old hustling. The filmmakers hate to hear this, because once upon a time you could sell the idea to one exec at a big distributor or studio and their marketing team would take it from there, allowing you to get back to what you love–making movies. But those days are gone, and now the creatives have to be salesmen, too.

I suspect the same is increasingly true for a creative industry like our own. While the traditional press still matters, it’s only half the game. And the best people to be getting blog buzz on stories are the writers and editors themselves, even if they consider such self-promotion unseemly.

All bloggers know that the way to get links is to engage in the secret underground economy of sucking up to bloggers with higher Technorati rank than you. Each post is accompanied by personal emails to people who might be interested, ideally referencing their own posts on similar themes. I do it and other bloggers do it to me. It’s just part of effective blogging. There’s a protocol to such hustling, and some do it better than others, but it strikes me that learning and teaching this culture could be a big part of PR 2.0.

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Found on Duct Tape Marketing:

In an article published in the January issue of Investment Advisor magazine several points in an article called Stepping Up – How the best advisors take their firms to the next level jumped off the page.

Compared to the market as a whole, firms that dominated their market:

  • Are 60% more likely to have annual sales goals
  • Are twice as likely to use business development specialists
  • Are 30% more likely to proactively seek referrals
  • Secure one-third more clients through strategic partners
  • Are three times more likely to have formal agreements with referral partners

Are you doing all of these – any of these?

Expanding Your Business Network via LinkedIn

I just wanted to drop you a note outlining some ways I’ve been utilizing to expand my LinkedIn network. This tool is very powerful if you invest a little time into it, and I would imagine it has massive potential to help you in your career or business. Having a vast network of contacts never hurts regardless of how successful you are at this moment.

Here’s the power of networking based on my own experience using this tool thus far:

I joined LinkedIn last Thursday (1/4/2007). Since then my network looks like this:







That’s a lot of potential reach in less than one week! I only wish I had discovered this tool when I was in sales. Oh well, better late than never right?

So, how would one go about expanding their network and reach rather quickly?

  1. Visit http://www.toplinked.com and browse over some of the top linked folks. If you see some that mesh well with your goals and objectives, send them an invitation or direct e-mail to join your network. Most people will do this if you ask politely.
  2. Browse over the LinkedIn answers section to see if there are people looking to expand their network and e-mail those which reply. A good example: http://www.linkedin.com/answers?viewQuestion=&questionID=7320&askerID=4140858&browseIdx=9&sik=1168456487935&goback=%2Eabq_o_n_*2
  3. Consider adding a link to your profile via your e-mail signature. LinkedIn can provide you a nice signature box with a lot of contact information to include in your outgoing e-mails. Go to My Profile –> E-mail signatures to set one up.
  4. Promote your profile on your blog or website.
  5. Ask a public question on LinkedIn under the answers tab and include in the question your e-mail address so people can expand their network if they’re interested. Or post a public invitation, including your e-mail address, asking for others to share theirs much like step #2.
  6. Include your e-mail address in your profile on LinkedIn. That way people actively searching for networking prospects can connect directly with you.
  7. When you post a comment or reply on message boards, blogs, or user groups, include a link to your profile. Or link back to your website or blog (this is a common search engine optimization trick).
  8. Lastly, be easy to access! If you want to be able to connect to a lot of people, now or in the future, think like those people would think and make it easy for them to connect with you. That’s networking 101, but it still applies.

There are some people that do not wish to expand their network because of their current job situation or fear of the Internet. I understand. Yes, it is a risk to post your public e-mail address out there because of spam and whatnot, but I haven’t run into that being an issue thus far, and the various e-mail clients are getting better and better at stripping bogus e-mails out. My contact information is readily available on my business website, blog, outgoing e-mails, and on LinkedIn. I’m not hard to find if someone is really trying. Does that scare me? A little, but I figure if I’m going to be very successful in my business, there are trade-offs and risks involved that I just have to take. Since LinkedIn is free to use, why not take full advantage of it? It’s a great tool that can really improve one’s chances at success if utilized properly.

Anyway, I hope this helps, and I hope you choose to expand your network and connect with some really interesting people out there.

If I can help you in any way, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Assessing a Competitive Sales Opportunity

Have you ever found yourself wondering how you shot the last sales opportunity even after everything seemed like a close was eminent? Many times the answer lies within us if we’re willing to dig deep enough. Let’s take a look at five possibilities for why things may have gone awry.

Did you uncover a true pain for the customer? As salespeople, we’re quick to assume we completely understand the customer’s dilemma because we want the sale, but that assumption often leads us down a twisty path all the while instilling a false sense of optimism in the opportunity. A true pain is uncovered only after you’ve validated it with the owners and completely understand the impact it has organization wide. You may talk with a prospect that says “we need your product now because I’m up to my eyeballs in complaints, and it will vastly eliminate the complaints” yet the pain is only seen as affecting that particular person or department. Maybe the organization itself doesn’t understand the domino effect the pain has on the organization so that means someone didn’t do a thorough job of exploring and explaining the pain with others in the organization.

Did you uncover a reasonable budget for your product or service? Prospects sometimes have a decent idea of what your product or service should cost, but many times their only basis for determining such is an online search and a quick review of a few of the results from that search. Don’t leave it to the prospect to price your product or service for you—let them know as early on as possible a ballpark range to expect to pay. If they heavily balk at the number, get out early and move on. It’s much better to qualify a prospect out than to waste a bunch of time on wasteful meetings and proposals when you’re out of the game before it even begins. Hearing things such as “oh don’t worry, I’ll get the funds for this when we need them,” or “this is a future project, but we’re getting a head start” should sound warning bells that you’re up against possible budgetary issues or future price shopping regardless of how you position the deal.

Did you really talk with the proper decision makers? If the sale is potentially complex, meaning it may impact multiple areas of the customer’s business, several people are likely to be involved. If the pain you’ve uncovered is legitimate, it’ll become apparent to the contact person you’re talking with that more people need to be involved before contract time. If the prospect is serious about implementing your product or service, they’ll welcome the interaction with others as a way to gain their approval and solidify the decision. If they prevent others from getting involved, you likely aren’t dealing with the decision maker, or the project isn’t likely to happen.

Was the timeframe realistic? Just because a prospect says they need your solution implemented by the end of the month doesn’t mean it’s feasible. The burden is on you to help your prospect establish a workable implementation schedule. If you can’t come to an agreeable schedule, you’ll both be better to walk away from the deal. Forcing your organization to do something they’re not skilled at doing or requires too many resources is only going to make things worse. Look at it this way, your competition will have to bend over backwards to meet the terms meaning they’ll be allocating extra resources just to make it happen. More often than not, they’ll have problems, too so don’t fret over it.

Did you establish an agreed upon value analysis? All the ROI analyses and charts in the world may make sense to you, but did the customer buy into it? Too many times, a value analysis looks phenomenal on paper and in theory, but it has little chance of being realized because it was designed for a perfect world—one in which we do not live. Make sure you establish realistic metrics with your prospect prior to suggesting any return expectations. Nothing will burn you more than inflating ROI numbers that will never be realized by your customer. It’s always better to under promise and over deliver than to over promise and under deliver.

While there are far too many factors that can lead to a lost opportunity, you can greatly improve your odds of closing a sale if you consistently address these five areas throughout your sales process.

For more sales and marketing related information, please visit Marketing Consultant.

Increasing Your Company’s Competitive Intelligence

Perhaps you run a small business and have a belief that you simply don’t have the time to consistently monitor your competitors and your market as you should. Keeping the business afloat is paramount to you, and hiring additional staff to address this area isn’t an option at this juncture. Consultants aren’t an option either because they’re costly, or your company can’t sacrifice the time necessary to properly educate an outsider about your inner business workings. For any of these situations, there is an alternative if you truly want to keep tabs on your competitive landscape: have your current employees take responsibility.

Tasking your existing employees with developing competitive intelligence for small portions of the overall endeavor isn’t that time consuming, and it will allow them to feel like they are part of the strategic planning process. If your company has a sales or marketing department, these employees serve as the ideal candidates for undertaking competitive analyses. They should be familiar with the market to begin with and have contacts throughout the territory which may provide some inside information. To think your sales or marketing staff doesn’t communicate with a competitor or two is rather naïve—it happens, and it’s a reality you can use to your company’s advantage if it’s encouraged instead of frowned upon.

What kind of information do you need from each employee as it pertains to the competitive landscape? Capturing the following competitor data is a good start:
• Strengths
• Weaknesses
• How your company can take advantage of their weaknesses
• How your company can minimize potential threats from the competitor
• Product and service offerings & changes
• Pricing structure & fluctuations
• Plans to expand or consolidate operations
• Management & staffing changes

Most top sales and marketing reps will know this kind of stuff inside and out (on your strongest competitors) without having to do a ton of “homework,” but that doesn’t mean the information is being shared throughout the ranks. Often times it’s not, and that’s a contributing factor as to why there is typically a great divide between the top and bottom performers. This presents an opportunity to improve overall sales performance in addition to other benefits mentioned in this article.

Once you’ve gotten your employees to gather and analyze competitive data, how are you going to efficiently distribute it amongst the ranks? Why not host mandatory weekly strategic meetings to feed this information into your organization’s collective mindset? As co-workers demonstrate a solid understanding of a specific competitor or issue, they become the so-called defacto in-house “expert” on that competitor or issue which their co-workers will value. It will raise mutual respect levels and give employees the opportunity to develop better presentation and teaming skills. Other workers will follow suit, thus increasing your entire company’s competitive intelligence. Choose to focus on one competitor or issue per week, and the meetings won’t infringe too much upon the normal work day. The weekly strategic meetings could be conducted over lunch, as an internal lunch and learn, where you order food for all in attendance in exchange for their undivided attention. Yes, you’ll have to pay some money for food, but it’s cheaper than hiring additional staff, and it raises the bar across the board for your organization to become a more competitively focused entity.

To summarize, the resources are likely within your reach to gather and distribute competitive intelligence throughout your organization if you desire to make this important for your organization. Smaller companies simply don’t devote enough attention to expanding their competitive intellectual capital, and this is a creative way to get more people involved in your strategic efforts and team build while maintaining some cost control.

Roger Bauer is Founder and CEO of SMB Consulting, Inc., a Louisville, Kentucky based small business consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, web design, SEO, sales and marketing, and business analysis. To learn more, point your browser to Business Consulting. To contact a small business consultant today, e-mail info@smbconsultinginc.com.

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