Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The More You Tell, the More You Sell!

In order to satisfy today's information-hungry audience, I think that K.I.S.S. (keep it simple sweetie) doesn't always apply. Prospects and customers are looking for detailed information to help them make informed decisions. Here are a few tips to help you educate your audience about the products and services you sell:
  • Make your marketing materials more educational. Include a product history, list benefits from a customer perspective, explain how it works, and provide comparisons of why your product is better than the competition.

  • Provide customized information packets neatly organized in a pocket folder full of detailed information for customers interested in a specific product or service.

  • Show confidence in your products by providing free samples, free product evaluations, or a discounted, no-obligation trial for customers to try your products or services firsthand and learn more about them before making a decision to buy. If you listen to the radio almost every direct response ad offers a free trial.

  • Take advantages of opportunities to be viewed as an expert in your field. Write guest columns in industry publications, speak at a trade show or on a radio feature, and post your own blog.

  • Provide a Q&A section on your website that offers convenient answers to potential questions.

  • Offer educational product videos that show product highlights, key features, and tips.

  • Create customer forums that allow customers to discuss your products openly and educate each other.

  • Provide free hands-on training or presentations at your business, during trade shows, or on-site for customers to see and learn the benefits of your products firsthand.

  • Offer webinars, e-learning, or how-to seminars that offer educational tips and interesting information not only about your products, but your industry as a whole.

  • Publish a regular newsletter as a marketing tool to build relationships and offer information about your business, team, products, and industry.

  • Invite customers "behind the scenes." Give them a tour of your building, and introduce them to your team. Show them a "day in the life" of your company. Let them view how products are made and learn more about your quality-control standards and guides.

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

Friday, February 24, 2012

Why are Manhole Covers Round? Manhole Covers and Marketing

You've probably heard the question asked, "Why are manhole covers round?" Answers vary from the obvious ("because manholes are round") to the more obscure. Wikipedia offers several possibilities. My personal favorites?
  1. A round manhole cover cannot be accidentally dropped into the round hole it covers.

  2. The circular shape makes the heavy covers easier to roll.

  3. Round castings are easier to machine lathe than those of another shape and less expensive to produce in a size wide enough for a person to fit through.

  4. The round shape makes it easy to replace an open cover without having to line up the corners.

  5. A round tube holds up better against the earth's compression surrounding it than a shape with corners would.

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

Which brings me around to marketing.

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

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

High Five! Ways to Make Your Work-Life More Enjoyable

Nineteenth-century humorist Josh Billings famously said, "Life is a grindstone. Whether it grinds a man down or polishes him up depends on the stuff he's made of." Here are five tips to help you make sure life's polishing you into a beautiful gem:

Slow down. Yes, we're all busy, and we all have deadlines we need to meet. But trying to go 100 miles per hour in 20 different directions simultaneously will only get you nowhere that much faster. Take some time each day to step away from the grind, unwind, and slow down. Go for a walk. Spend time by yourself. Buy a coworker lunch or a cup of coffee. Or just relax, recharge, and reconnect with the world around you. You'll return more focused and better able to handle the day.

Show appreciation. As human beings, we all appreciate feeling, well, appreciated. Make sure you thank those around you for the things they do to help and encourage you. Let your coworkers know how much their time, talents, encouragement, and support mean to you every day.

Offer positive reinforcement. This may sound like showing appreciation, but it's a little different. With appreciation, you're thanking someone for something they've done for you. With positive reinforcement, there's no expectation that the other person has done or will do anything for you. You're showing them encouragement with no strings attached. For example, when you see a coworker making strides in an area of concern or taking on new challenges, give them a pat on the back and hearty congratulations. Similarly, if you see someone struggling, offer support and guidance if you can.

Counter negativity with positive words and praise. Negativity is a highly contagious workplace disease. Don't let it spread to you. Avoid overly negative office chat. Focus instead on building people up by being a positive voice for and influence on those around you.

Find creative ways to use your strengths. We all have things we need to do at work, and it's important to accomplish those tasks. But, whenever possible, try to carve out some time to work on projects that showcase your talents and put your strengths to maximum use. If such projects are hard to find, create your own, and present them to your manager or boss. Make sure to include valid reasons you think your projects will benefit the company. If your ideas get shot down, don't give up. Come up with a better plan, and keep trying. Your initiative, determination, and positive attitude will not go unnoticed.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Fish Story Worth Remembering

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

7 Keys to a Successful Collaboration

The business annals are filled with examples of successful (and not so successful) collaborations. We at Plum Grove spends a significant amount of time working with Power Partners in related service areas and have had much success in these collaborations. Many of the innovations we take for granted today are the result of individuals and organizations coming together to work toward a common goal. If your company is considering a collaboration (even internally between departments), here are a few tips to keep in mind:
  • Start with a common goal, and make sure all parties understand it. Outline your plan, and decide up front who will be responsible for which aspects of the project.

  • Spell out your expectations, key deliverables, and a timetable for completion. That way, everyone will start on the same page.

  • Establish trust... and work to maintain it. Without trust, information will not flow freely, and if that happens, the collaboration is doomed. Starting with common goals and expectations (see above) will go a long way to building trust, as will delivering on the promises you make.

  • Of course, building trust doesn't mean compromising security. When collaborating with another company or with individuals outside your company, share only information that is vital to the project at hand. This will serve two purposes: First, it will save time that could be wasted getting into details that are irrelevant to the work. Second, it will eliminate leaks that could damage one collaborator's position.

  • Along those same lines, it might be wise to have all parties involved sign non-disclosure agreements, as a legal safeguard to ensure everyone has the project's best interest in mind. Obviously, this is not necessary for internal collaborations, but when working with outside parties, an NDA can keep everybody protected.

  • Let each collaborator focus on their strengths. In successful collaborations, each party brings its own strengths and skillsets to the table. Trouble starts when egos get wounded and collaborators are unwilling to give up control of certain aspects of the project. A well-defined and documented plan, like the one outlined above, will help.

  • Keep in close touch with your superiors. If you're representing your company in a collaboration, let your supervisors know how things are progressing. Keep them in the loop, so they can step in when necessary to help ensure the project remains on track.
What other tips or examples do you have to share from your own collaborations or from collaborations you've seen? I'd love to read about them in the comments below.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Six Steps to Handling Mistakes at Work

Mistakes are a natural part of life... and business. Perfection is always the goal but "stuff" happens. How you handle those mistakes will go a long way in turning a dissatisfied customer around. Here are a few things you can do when mistakes occur at your company to help resolve the issue and make sure it doesn't happen again:
  1. Acknowledge the mistake. When someone brings an error to your attention, own up to it. Apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused, and get to work (with the customer) to resolve the situation.

  2. Act swiftly. As soon as a mistake comes to light, get to work fixing the problem. If it's a quick fix, all that much better. However, if resolving the issue will take more time, let the customer know that, too, and set a realistic timetable for reaching a resolution.

  3. Keep the customer involved. Ask the customer what you can do to make things right, and keep in close touch with them until the issue is resolved. This will help the customer see how seriously you take the situation... and their business.

  4. Follow up and follow through. After the situation has been resolved, follow up with the customer to make sure everything is now okay. Follow through on any promises you made, and let the customer know how much you appreciate their feedback.

  5. Schedule a postmortem. Once you've had a little time to breathe, gather together the key members of your team who worked on resolving the problem. Figure out what caused the initial error, and decide what can be done differently in the future to prevent the same thing from happening again.

  6. Shore up your processes. This goes hand-in-hand with the previous step. With the team's recommendations now in hand, start implementing the changes you think will help your company move forward into the future.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Break the Ice - 6 Cold Call Success Strategies

Few of us enjoy making cold calls, but for many salespeople cold calling is inevitable. Here are six tips to help warm your next cold call:
  1. Don't make the cold call your first point of contact. Instead, start with a letter or email. Introduce yourself, your company, and the products or services you provide. Explain the benefits the prospect will gain from working with you, and let them know you will be following up with a phone call to set up an appointment to talk.

  2. Or the last. Don't jump right into a sales pitch on your first cold call and expect to close a sale. Respect the person's time, their schedule, and the fact that your call was not on that schedule before you made it. Ask if this is a good time to talk. If it isn't, suggest times when you could call back, or offer to meet in person if that will work better for the prospect.

  3. Do your homework. Find out ahead of time who you should be contacting at a prospective company. Learn what you can about their business and how your solution can best fit their needs.

  4. Prepare an outline. Have some idea what you want to say before you make your call. Start with a script if that makes you comfortable, but try not to make it sound too mechanical or forced. Relax as best you can and try to be yourself. Your preparation and earlier contact should help.

  5. Ask questions. Don't do all the talking. Instead, introduce yourself, and then ask the prospect about their company and the role they play in it. Listen carefully to their responses. Work to build a rapport and connect with them one-on-one.

  6. Follow up. As your call wraps up, try to set a time to meet face-to-face or over the phone again. After hanging up, send another email, thanking the person for their time, and reminding them of any future appointments you made. If they had questions you were unable to answer on the spot, find those answers and pass them along as quickly as possible. And create a schedule of regular follow-up activity to help you stay front-of-mind.

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

Friday, February 3, 2012

Business Lessons from a Pinewood Car

Every year, Cub Scout packs across the U.S. hold pinewood derby races. In Canada, Cub Scouts take part in a similar event, known as the kub kar rally. In both events (and others like them), the idea is simple. Participants are given a block of wood, four plastic wheels, and four small nails to use as axles. They can fashion their cars pretty much any way they want, as long as they meet the guidelines for the race. Weights are added, and the cars are raced down a track, with gravity as the only source of power.

I think somewhere in a crawl space at our house is a strange-looking carved pickup truck with no aerodynamic styling but perfect for adding just a little more weight -- into the bed of the truck!

As you might imagine, designs and color schemes run the gamut. Some scouts will create traditional-looking race cars, while others will add their own creative flair. As racers line up, it's hard to imagine that all those cars started out exactly alike, as simple blocks of wood.

In business, many companies start out with similar sets of raw materials or similar product lines. Some focus on creating flashy or innovative designs and marketing campaigns that help them stand out from the crowd. Others focus on the basics, like making sure the axles and wheels are sanded smooth and properly lubricated with graphite, to ensure an optimal ride. Still others strive to distribute the weight properly, to maximize efficiency and make sure the right people are doing the right jobs that best suit their skills.

And the best companies? You guessed it. They do all three.

So, while the business world may not always run on a nice, smooth track -- and the playing field is not always level -- with the right preparation and some good, old-fashioned hard work, your company can win the day.