Posts tagged ‘Sales’

Which messages will resonate best with your customers?

ear trumpet

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that marketing is a lot harder than many people give it credit for. Doing good marketing is even harder. So take my advice when I say this: the message you convey to your audience is a) vitally important, b) very difficult to target, and c) extremely challenging to get right. If you don’t understand a), b), and c), you’ll be relegated to d) crappy sales, poor marketing materials, and unrealized potential. Is there any hope?

Of course there is. C’mon… you know I’m an optimist…

Like everything else, messaging takes a solid plan and good execution. If you have a lot of different customer-facing teams in your organization, you want to make sure everyone is saying the same thing, and in the same way. Your best bet is to create a Core Messaging Platform, a systematic, strategic document that accomplishes several important tasks:

  1. Centralizes your messaging in one location so that everyone in your company is literally on the same page.
  2. Defines, shapes and drives all of the outbound communication for your products and services.
  3. Consists of a series of overarching messages, high-level/benefit-based core messages, and supporting messages that elaborate on key ideas.

If you take the time and effort to create this “one-stop shop” for your messaging needs, you’ll be amazed at how much easier and more effective your communication efforts are.

October 6, 2009 at 8:44 pm Leave a comment

Don’t choose potential customers over current customers (aka “Screw You” marketing)

Ok, I’m usually a pretty friendly, easy-going guy. But I gotta tell you… there’s a trend in some walks of life that really irks the hell out of me. Let me explain the nature of my consternation with a specific example…

My wife and I are in good shape, and like to exercise regularly. We’ve been members of various gyms over the years, but invariably return to our home gym after a while because of an incredibly annoying, insidious sales technique that most health clubs practice: the open house, followed by the trial membership. This usually takes place once a month, which means that for one week per month there are five times as many people in the gyms, and it’s virtually impossible to find an open exercise machine. What’s worse is that these trial members don’t know how to use the machines, so they take twice as long as they should. And to top it all off, they have no intention of joining the gym, but since it’s free they’ll cheerfully take advantage of the situation.

Bottom line: potential customers are provided the same privileges and accommodations as paying customers, but haven’t had to devote one dime. Conversely, current customers that are paying dues and keeping the doors open are not able to enjoy the services for which they have paid. I call this “screw you” marketing, for the obvious reason.

This is a very dangerous and inefficient practice for several reasons:

  1. You piss off your current customer base. Their experience is tarnished and they will most likely abandon the service sooner than they should. In the words of the marketer, this reduces the Lifetime Customer Value significantly. (Here’s one of Aximum’s success stories that focuses on Lifetime Customer Value.)
  2. You focus your energies in the wrong places. I imagine the conversion rate for open houses/trial memberships is very low, so it may behoove the gyms to concentrate on activities that collect customers with greater revenue potential and ROI. When you offer something free, you’ll get tons of action, but very little conversion. This is one of those undeniable truths of marketing.
  3. You don’t take advantage of repeat/renewed customers. These gyms spend a lot of time, energy, and money on developing the open houses. Curiously, not one ounce of thought or energy has been spent trying to get me to agree to a longer contract, sign up for other services, or anything else that would bring it additional revenue. This glaring deficiency in their marketing communication program shines out like a beacon in the night. If a company has proven, revenue-producing, long-term customers, it’s usually 3-5 times easier to gain additional revenue from them than it is to bleed it from the trick-or-treaters that sign up for the free stuff (sorry… I sounded a little bitter there).

When you’re seeking new customers, remember not to sacrifice your current customer base. If you abandon them, don’t be surprised if they abandon you.

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June 25, 2009 at 12:47 am Leave a comment

“Me too” marketing – develop your own Unique Selling Proposition

I’ve seen it happen a million times. A company sees their competition do something that’s different, and they immediately jump on the bandwagon. After all, if our competitors are doing it, they must know something we don’t, so we better get in on the action before it’s too late! Sigh… alas, copycatting is not a strategy. And the sad thing is that your competition probably doesn’t know any more than you do. Congratulations – you’ve just fallen for the oldest, least disciplined trick in the book and turned into a “me too” marketer.

You can see this happening everywhere you turn. Do the terms green, whole grain, sirloin, organic, and hand-crafted sound overly familiar? They should, because they’re everywhere, used for products ranging from food to shampoo to cars. If words or phrases or overused, they (and their associated products) suffer from commoditization. In other words, the message loses its meaning, and all the products in a certain category are perceived by the audience as being the same. Once this happens, customers no longer have brand loyalty, and the only differentiator they care about is price. A great example of this phenomenon is gasoline. How often do you choose gasoline based on additives? Or the ability to eliminate knocks and pings? Chances are you buy your gas based solely on its price. This is commoditization as its worst.

How do you avoid this pitfall? The best thing you can do is create your own Unique Selling Propositions (USP). Every company has strengths and weaknesses. Capitalize on your strengths by developing a messaging strategy that separates you from your competitors. Determine how your products and services can be presented to your audience in a unique, informative, entertaining, and compelling manner. Make sure that you’re clear, concise, and consistent in your application of the message. And above all, take the time to let your USPs develop. Like a flower, marketing is a process that needs a lot attention, a lot of love, and the patience to allow it to come to fruition.

Follow this advice and you’ll be amazed how quickly you can separate yourself from the “me too” herd!

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June 23, 2009 at 12:50 am Leave a comment

Your business’ secret to success: do one thing and do it right

Colonel Sanders was a master of business. He took a product that virtually everyone in the south made for themselves — fried chicken — and decided to sell his own version. The Kentucky Colonel outfit, the secret recipe, the bucket, and his self-promotion all contributed to his uniqueness and aura. However, his true secret to success was a simple philosophy: do one thing and do it right. He made better fried chicken than anyone else, and he focused all his efforts on building the business around his flagship product. His plan was to start small, gain a reputation, and establish a toehold in his local Kentucky community. From there, he wanted to conquer the fried chicken world, and use his market dominance as a springboard for other complementary products. Of course, we all know the rest of the story; his plan worked to perfection and the chicken industry has never been the same.

What’s the lesson that other companies can learn from the Colonel? Determine what your biggest strength is and focus your efforts on that. Perfect your product/service, establish a great reputation, use your revenues to invest in the company, and build your empire. Many companies try to become jacks-of-all-trades, but instead become masters-of-none. This mistake goes back to a previous discussion about market sizing vs. market segementation. It’s better to dominate a small market and branch out into other markets in time, rather than become a bit player in a larger, more competitive market. This approach will focus your internal resources in the places that maximize your profit potential, put your marketing communications plan on a path towards great success, and send a message to competitors that you have your priorities straight.

Don’t let the goatee fool you… Colonel Sanders was a brilliant businessman and a master marketer. Now go out there, focus on the one thing at which you’re best, and fry the competition!

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June 22, 2009 at 12:23 am 1 comment

Boost your customer base by lowering, not raising, prices

This is a tough time for most business. Many companies are losing a lot of customers and having trouble meeting revenue commitments outlined in their 2009 budgets, which are usually created in the previous fall season. This is happening, of course, because most people did not realize that the economy would fall into recession in 2009. Executive management teams are meeting in their boardrooms every single day, trying to figure out what to do to stabilize customer retention. Chances are good that two prevailing schools of thought are being bandied about:

  • School Of Thought #1: Since we are currently losing customers very quickly, we need to make up for that shortfall by reducing costs (which has probably already been done), while at the same time increasing our prices in order to achieve more revenue per customer. If we have lost 10% of our customers, and raise our prices 10%, we could probably close the revenue gap.
  • School Of Thought #2: We’ve lost several customers during the first half of the year, and we need to focus on keeping those customers while obtaining a few new ones. Along with reducing our costs (which has probably already been done) we need to reduce our prices, providing an incentive for current customers to stay with us and encouraging prospects to become customers.

As a marketer and ardent capitalist, I believe in School Of Thought #2. It looks at the marketplace as a non-finite tub of potential revenue, even during recessionary times. It also views an increase in price as a form of taxation on current customers, which is a bad idea during good economic times and an even worse idea now. I’ve seen many struggling companies adopt School Of Thought #1, only to see them descend into a business death sprial. As customers balk at higher prices and bail out, this leaves an even smaller customer base to provide the revenue stream necessary to maintain operations. The cycle of higher prices and fewer customers seals a company’s fate and failure becomes inevitable.

From a marketing perspective, it’s an even tougher sell. We’re always looking for unique selling propositions (USPs) and differentiators, and I’ve found that raising prices kills off great marketing each and every time. It poisons the fragile relationship with the customer, leaving them bitter and resentful. Another aspect to consider is the fact that, nowadays, customers don’t go away quietly. They use social networking and forums to voice their displeasure, and most of the time it ain’t pretty.

Before you pull the pricing lever, be sure you’ve fully analyzed your pricing model and exhausted other options. After all, if you make the wrong decision, it may be you that ends up paying the price.

(If you need help with pricing, or you have other marketing needs, contact me at Aximum Marketing. I’ll be happy to help.)

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June 17, 2009 at 11:19 pm 2 comments

Get the most out of your trade shows

If your company participates in trade shows, you know there are many differing opinions about whether or not you should be there. There are probably even more opinions about how to define “success” when you are there. I’ve managed, attended, and participated in more trade shows than I care to mention, and I’ve discovered there are some undeniable truths when it comes right down to it:

  1. If your upper management is either undecided or split regarding whether to attend, you have no chance of making your participation as successful as it should be.
  2. Anything less that complete support from your senior management team spells doom. If their heart isn’t in it, if they’re just going through the motions because “that’s what we’ve always done,” others in the organization will recognize this lack of enthusiasm and follow suit. Given the fact that you’re probably spending a good chunk of change, it’s in the best interests of upper management to buy in and embrace it.

  3. If you have not created a specific set of goals that are clearly identified, communicated, and understood, you can guarantee yourself a below-average experience.
  4. What do you hope to accomplish by attending the trade show? Why are you going to this particular show rather than another one? Is success measured in revenue, leads, news articles, brand awareness, internal perception, or something else? You can’t provide an answer without first knowing the question, so lay this all out beforehand, solicit feedback, engage all groups within your organization, and use all means at your disposal to promote your attendance.

  5. If the management and participation of your trade shows is solely in the hands of your marketing team, whether by autocracy or by disinclination from other teams, you will not achieve the buy-in or participation required to succeed.
  6. Marketing people are great… heck, I’m one of them. But I also know they are single-minded when it comes to execution. Without participation by other teams, marketing will invariably defer to marketing-specific goals, which most of the time are functions of larger goals. Consequently, they may not achieve everything that other teams, like sales or product management, would have hoped for. If you are one of these other teams, I suggest that you get involved early and often so that you’re not disappointed.

  7. If you focus more on number of leads, rather than quality of leads, you are destined to waste massive amounts of time chasing people that will never generate a dime of revenue.
  8. In an earlier blog entry I discuss how to identify and focus on hot leads instead of sheer quantity. Just remember that all leads are not created equal. The best rule of thumb is to focus on your target audience, develop good incentives to encourage continued conversations, use best practices to qualify your leads, and create programs that will fill, but not overwhelm, your sales pipeline.

  9. If you do not have a strong events manager firmly in charge, your salespeople will spend more time on their Blackberries than on the trade show floor.
  10. I love salespeople. I really do. But I know they have a tendency to be a bit, um, ornery. Let’s be honest… without a strong personality keeping them on a short leash, most salespeople will walk into the trade show booth, zoom over to the first empty chair, and start answering emails on their Blackberries. They tend to view trade shows as a waste of time that’s cutting into their ‘face time’ with customers. The truth is that they can engage more customers spending 3 hours in a trade show booth than they can if they spent a week on the road. A strong-willed events manager can help them remember this and keep them on-task. Remember, the booth is there for the benefit of sales more than any other team, so they should learn to take advantage of it.

  11. If you do not reserve a meeting room, you will lose out on many important opportunities.
  12. The noise of the show and the buzz in the booth can make it difficult to engage in deeper conversations, the kind that close deals. Your solution is to reserve a meeting room when you purchase your booth location. The meeting room can be used for prospects, interviews, PR functions, and a variety of other high-quality activities. The booth brings ’em in, but the quiet meeting room helps to keep ’em.

  13. If you don’t choose your booth location carefully, you might as well not even be there.
  14. Whenever possible, do an on-location reconnaissance as early as possible to determine the best location for your booth. If you can’t do this, or if you don’t have enough budget to get into the highest traffic areas, don’t worry. The next best places are: near the meeting rooms, next to the bathrooms, near the concession stands, and close to the sitting areas. Another trick… if your booth has a place to sit down and/or offers food & drink, you will probably double your traffic.

You’ve spend a lot of money on registrations, booth design, marketing, and T&E, so follow these tips to maximize your ROI. Happy hunting!

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June 14, 2009 at 11:48 pm Leave a comment

Promote your products with case studies and success stories

Quick… name your most effective salesperson. Nope, it’s not your high-performing outside rep who’s made quota for the past five years. Guess again…

It’s your customers.

Your sales and marketing teams can talk about your products and value propositions until they’re blue in the face, but a company’s spokespeople talking about themselves will always lack a certain amount of credibility. A customer, however, is an independent organization that has chosen you over your competitors, and carries genuine credibility and legitimacy. Their word-of-mouth endorsement can easily land a sale. How can you capitalize on this loyal group of enthusiastic supporters? By asking them to participate in a case study or success story. There are benefits for everyone:

  • For your company – you can promote big name customers and add instant recognition via case studies, success stories, YouTube videos, and press releases
  • For your customers – gives them a great opportunity to co-brand with your company. In addition, references and links to their website will help increase their organic search results.
  • For your salespeople – provides fantastic sales tools to further build your company’s customer base
  • For your future customers – takes the guesswork out of purchasing and enables them to confidently make a decision based on the results of current customers

But you don’t have to take my word for it… you can read my success stories and see what I mean. Don’t blow your own horn, let your customers do it for you. Toot toot.

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June 11, 2009 at 1:34 am Leave a comment

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