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Category Archives: Business

Ways to Get Ideas Flowing if You Find Yourself Stuck

1. Read. Read everything you can get your hands on. Marketing articles (like this one), business articles, industry journals, the daily newspaper. You don’t get new ideas from doing the same thing every day. Be learning and looking all the time.

2. Go outside of your industry and read what others are doing. It will give you a different perspective on things. Read general business or start-up magazines like Entrepreneur or Business 2.0. These publications are filled with success stories from a variety of businesses.

3. Find someone (or several others) that does what you do in another part of the country. Watch their ideas and marketing techniques. Sign-up for their ezine. Try to get on their mailing list. In addition to finding similar companies online you may try to network with someone through a national association or at a networking event.

4. Allow yourself one day a month to get outside your office — outside your normal work environment — and brainstorm. Find a relaxed setting where you can sit down for a while and just write. Write down what’s happened over the last month or so, where you’re heading, and where you’d like to go in the future.

Find out what environment works best for you to do this exercise. It may be finding a big comfy chair at Starbucks for a few hours, or working from home instead of the office. It’s hard to come up with ideas when you’re in the thick of things; so get out of your work environment and relax. The ideas just might flow.

5. Search for marketing ideas online. You may have some ideas you’ve been kicking around but haven’t fully materialized. Jot down some key words and just go digging around. You never know where your next great idea will come from.

Surveying Your Clients

The best way that I have found to be able to get feedback from our full client base is by sending a survey. Surveys can be sent either by mail or via the web. I would recommend sending web-based surveys over printed surveys as it is much less expensive and provides a higher response rate and a quicker return of information. Email marketing software tool called allows anyone to easily create, send, and receive results from web-based surveys.

In sending a survey, there are a few questions that can be especially helpful to ask. These questions include :

– What do you like about our product or service?
– How do you use our product or service?
– How can we improve our product or service?
– Is there anything we can do to improve your satisfaction with our product or service?
– Are there any other services or products we could offer that you might be interested in?

Generally I would recommend leaving these types questions open ended. You can also ask non open ended questions such as “On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you with our customer service?” or “Which of these five features add-ons would benefit you most?”

Once you have deployed your survey, the next step is to wait for the responses to come in. While this may vary by industry, I’ve found about 90% of the total responses will come in during the first 72 hours after deployment of a web-based survey. I’ve seen response rates for web-based surveys range from 5% to 50% depending on the number of questions, the type of list, and how well your customers know you.

Reviewing the Results
Once you have the results, the next and very important step is to review them. If you have more than a few dozen responses, I would recommend creating a Feedback Summary Document that categorizes each reported method for improvement and tabulates the number of times a similar request comes up. At the end of this process, you’ll be able to get a very good idea of why your clients like your product or service and what they feel can be done to improve it, probably the two most important pieces of information you can have as a business owner. With this information you can create an improved roadmap for your product that will allow you to stay competitive and provide the product that your customers want.

In addition to being able to create this improved roadmap, you’ll also likely have a number of very good testimonials or case study material that you can use from the answers to the “what do you like” and “how do you use it” questions.

Implementing the Changes
Once you have a good idea of what the most requested improvements are, you can consider how and when to implement these changes. Depending on your production or development cycle, it may take days or months to make some of the requested changes. Know that not all clients will want the same things. Some may even want changes or new features that conflict-causing you to have to consider offering multiple product lines or completing custom work.

When you have made some or all of the requested improvements be sure to get additional feedback from your clients prior to launching your new version or improved offering. One of the larger mistakes that I’ve made to date in my still young business career is not getting sufficient client feedback prior to launching a new version of my email marketing product to the full user base a few months ago. If we had allowed access to a few clients to review the new version prior to launch-we likely could have averted a number of the bugs and headaches that occurred after the launch. We since have changed our development process so that this type of beta client review is possible. In your organization, depending on what type of product you are selling certainly consider showing an early version of your new offering to some clients or holding a focus group session to get the very valuable post-change feedback prior to launch. Giving your client, and prospects for that matter, a role in the development of your product will help them feel valued and also be more likely to want to purchase your new product after launch.

Here is a review of the seven step feedback process I’ve discussed:

1. Ask the questions in a web-based survey
2. Create a feedback summary document from the results
3. Implement the changes
4. Get client feedback on the changes
5. Make final modifications
6. Go live with the changed product or service
7. Wait a few months and then restart the process

Listen to your customers and you’ll get the feedback you need to make customer-centric business decisions that will allow you to increase your client satisfaction, lifetime value, and retention rate.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a few best practice guidelines for sending out a web-based survey to your client base.

– Survey your clients at least every year, preferably every 6 months
– If your organization offers multiple products or services, create separate surveys for the customers of each major type of product or service you offer.
– Be sure to include questions asking both what your clients like about your product or service as well as any suggestions they have for improving it.

Effective Marketing Strategy

1. Who is your Ideal Client (IC)? The more you know about their distinguishable demographics, psychographics, and consumer habits, the better. You should be able to describe your IC as a specific type of person with a specific need. You should be able to describe their likes, dislikes, and their pattern of seeking out resolutions and opportunities as it relates to what you offer. Take the time to know as much about your IC as possible. The insider’s view will allow you to speak their language and feel their pain in a way that leads to empathetic marketing.

2. What problems and/or desires does your IC have that will inspire them to do business with you? Your solution needs to perfectly answer the question they are asking. If your IC is not asking a question you will have to work too hard to make a sale. Your IC should be asking questions such as: How can I solve this problem? How can I achieve this goal? How can I do this quicker, faster, better? There has to be sufficient motivation to buy and you need to know what it is so that you can market to the motivated buyer.

3. How can you reach them en masse and what’s the best form of communication? Most businesses need more than a few clients and most need to constantly add new clients in order to sustain and grow. Reaching ideal prospects in sufficient numbers is necessary to get the number of IC(s) that will be the basis of your revenue. Large ticket products and services do not need as many clients as smaller ones but here is the trap with large ticket items: having only a handful of high paying clients can be risky if one or more should stop doing business with you. I have seen small and large corporations draw their income from one or two Fortune 500 Companies and consequently experience extreme adversity when the Fortune 500 Company reduces their business needs or stops buying altogether. That is exactly what’s happening with automotive suppliers. They depend on a small number of auto companies and their survival is at risk every time the industry takes a turn for the worse. Don’t make the same mistake; keep your marketing pipeline full of new ideal prospects and gently move them down the pipeline to become IC(s). Do this while continuing to enrich your relationship with your current client base and you increase your chances of sustainable profits.

Once you can answer these three questions, you can create an outreach strategy that positions you and your product/service in a way that is likely to get your IC’s attention. Unless you have deep pockets and a vast supply of patience for taking the slow and tedious path, forget brand marketing and marketing to the general public. If you are in a network marketing business, forget duplication and recruiting until you, yourself, know how to acquire loyal customers.

Your ability to connect with your IC is the one of the first things you need to master. When you have become proficient at it, you can grow your business wide and deep and duplication and expansion become possible. Don’t waste time or money marketing to anyone who does not fit the profile of your ideal client.

Your #1 job is to serve those you are qualified to best serve and if others find their way into your store and make a purchase, that’s fine but don’t invest energy in seeking them out.

When you connect with your ideal client and your marketing message is directed to them, you won’t have to work hard for the sale. You can focus on creating affinity, trust, and contribution. The selling process becomes a natural communication process that is much more agreeable to the seller and the buyer.


Know More About Your Competition

This is an issue that’s growing in importance. Our industry is heating up and becoming more competitive. All around us things are changing at an ever-increasing rate. That means that it’s more important than ever for you to be aware of what your competitors are doing so that you don’t get blindsided or seriously outmaneuvered.

That happened to me. To this day, I still get a sick feeling in my stomach as I remember the day when I lost my largest account to my arch competitor. It was an account that made up 20% of my total volume. In my blissful ignorance, I was content to grow my business by calling on the end users and purchasing department, while my competition was successfully building a relationship with the administration. The result? My best account signed a prime vendor, sole-source agreement with my competitor, and within 60 days, I was almost totally out of that account. I was totally blindsided.

That’s a lesson that sticks with me, and one from which you can learn. To become good at knowing what your competition is up to, begin by thinking of yourself a little differently. If you’ve read my book (How To Excel at Distributor Sales), you know that I believe that distributor salespeople must see themselves as “managers of information” as well as “sellers of stuff.” To be effective in the Information Age economy, you must become adapt at collecting, storing and using good information. The knowledge of what your competition is doing is one such piece of information.

Begin by consciously collecting little bits and pieces of information at every opportunity. For example, you may have lost a bid or a particular piece of business to your competitors. Rather then just moping about it, use it as a learning opportunity. Try to find out from your customer why they awarded the business the way they did. If it was price alone, try to find out how much lower their price was. If it’s something else, find out what. That information won’t help for that particular piece of business, but it may give you an insight into the pricing policies of your competition. Write the information down on a 3 X 5 card, or piece of scrap paper.

Take your good customers to lunch, and casually see if you can steer the conversation in such a way as to learn something about your competition.

Keep your eyes open to the coming and going of competitive salesmen. Note when you see them, and in what account.

Subtly probe the manufacturer reps you work with. See if they can’t give you some insight into the strategies and tactics they’ve seen. Be sensitive and aware of competitive literature, business cards and price quotes lying around. And don’t forget to talk with the other salespeople who work for your company to get their insights.

All these are ways to collect bits and pieces of information. By themselves, they won’t help much. But, if you combine these bits and pieces, you may very well see trends, uncover strategies, and discover tactics your competition is using. As you collect each bit of information, capture it by writing it down, and putting the note in a manila folder marked “competition.” If you’re automated, type the information into your computer, and store it in either a word processing or database file.

Regardless, what you’re doing is assembling a quantity of information. Diligently collect those bits and piece of information, and file them away. After you collected a quantity of these, you’ll be able to open that file on a regular basis, consider all the pieces on information, and discover a great deal about your competitors.

The trick is to consistently collect and store information. Eventually you’ll assemble an accurate picture. It’s like the popular game show “Wheel of Fortune.” When Vanna White turns over one letter, it doesn’t give you much of a picture of what the total answer is. But after she’s turned over several of theses small individual pieces, the whole becomes clear and the answer to the riddle is simple to understand. That’s the way collecting information about your competition works.

The back of an old business card on which you noted that your you saw a competitive salesperson showing a new carbide line, by itself, doesn’t mean much. But if you filed that along with all the bits and pieces of information you’ve collected, and then pulled it all out and analyzed it, you might see an entirely different situation. Suppose you reviewed that business card note, and combined it with the note you made to yourself that you saw some sales literature on the competitive carbide line on the desk of one of your purchasing agents, and then saw that you lost a major bid to the competition because he quoted a new line at lower that traditional prices. All at once you’ve uncovered a potential treat to your business. Clearly, your competitor is pushing a new, lower price carbide line. You didn’t learn that from any one piece of information, but rather from the combination of all those pieces, considered as a whole.

The key to uncovering that information, to discovering what your competition is up to, is to consistently collect pieces of information, store them, and then analyze them as a whole from time to time.

Some of the best companies I deal with do that, and take it to one layer deeper. They meet from time to time in sales meetings, and share the information each individual salesperson has collected. The sum of all the information collected by the entire sales force is bigger and greater then that of any one person. So, the composite information, collected by the entire salesforce and assembled and analyzed by the sales manager, gives the company an insightful picture of the competition.

Keep in mind, as a distributor salesperson in the Information Age, you’re a dealer in information as well as a seller of stuff. Seriously address the process of systematically collecting, storing, and analyzing information, and you’ll gain incredible insights into your competition.

Does Your Marketing Pass the 5 Second Test

How long do you spend deciding whether an advertisement or article is of interest?When you walk past a trade show booth how long does it take to decide if it’s of interest?How long do you look at each result when you use a search engine?How long to decide if an email is junk and delete it?

The answer is “Less than 5 seconds” – often less than 2 seconds.

That is how long we have to Get Attention from a prospective buyer. And there is no reprieve – once our message is rejected or ignored, there is almost no chance that someone will return to it.

So what is it that gets our attention?

Sometimes the headline or a picture resonates with a problem we are trying to solve.Like many women there are always a few gaps in my wardrobe that I know need filling, so when I see something that looks as if it may answer a need, I stop to have a look – even if I am in a rush.

In my local city centre there are lots of cafe’s, restaurants and shops that sell food and snacks. If I am not hungry those places get next to no attention.When I am hungry they become the focus of my attention.

When my priorities change, what gets my attention changes.

I know this seems obvious – but it’s the secret to getting attention and the secret to successful marketing.

Get to know your market

If you understand a market well, you have a much better idea of what is a priority at any point in time. However it is essential that you learn to put yourself in the shoes of your customers. The products you sell are irrelevant. No matter how much you believe you are the best – your customers will only believe that after personal experience. So avoid over promoting and “selling” yourself or your product.

People buy what you or your product will do for them.”What’s in it for me.”Our customers are totally self interested.The mistake so many businesses make is to “Find a product they like and try to sell it.”

Instead I recommend that you “Find a problem or need people have, and fix it.”

If you know what people want, you don’t have to sell – they will be queuing up to buy, provided you deliver a competitive offering. Research and study your market, ask your customers why they bought from you, read the same magazines and web sites they read. Get to know what your market wants and then provide it.