Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What's Your Plan B?

A buddy of mine left me a message on my cell phone on Friday. It concerned a letter he wanted me to write for him for an upcoming meeting on Monday night. Well here it is Tuesday morning and I just heard his plea for help. My phone had died and was being repaired so his call went unanswered. I feel terrible about it and just tried to call him back. I got his voicemail.

This exchange in communication, or lack thereof, brings up a critical point that I've thought a lot about lately. I wonder at what point my friend began thinking about a backup plan. Was it Saturday or Sunday? Maybe he thought I was away for the weekend. Was it Monday morning? Lunch time? I don't know but I'll find out when we speak.

More often than not our business communication is done by voicemail and e-mail. I'm just as guilty leaving messages requesting someone to send me a document or to call me back with an important detail. This is not a dialog but a monologue. And it can cause a lot of problems.

Of course we all love the trail that e-mail leave, "I asked you for the LMN file in my e-mail sent to you on May 25th but never received it."

To make matters worse, there's even a feature on my Verizon cell phone (I think it's #8) that will allow you to respond to a fellow Verizon customer's voicemail that will allow you to reply to their message without their phone even ringing. Talk about impersonal.

My point is this... you have to develop a fall-back strategy or Plan B as soon as you are forced to rely on someone else's actions. It's not losing faith in the abilities of others but a harsh reality. Even as professionals we have to grow up and become self-sufficient.

So what are the loose ends that have been hanging around your to-do list for more than a couple weeks? Is there something that YOU can do to get them completed rather than waiting for someone else?

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Squeeky Wheel Gets the Grease

This year marks our company's 30th anniversary. We've just started a small public relations campaign and are batting a thousand percent. Want to know the secret how we had a feature story written about us in the local newspaper? We asked. Want to know how we're getting the executive director of the NJ Commission on Science and Technology to visit the office? We asked.

What's holding you back? Whether it's a prospect you're trying to bag or a current customer you'd like to try a new creative campaign, all you need to do is ask.

Over 15 years ago I took the Dale Carnegie Public Speaking Course and one of the key points I remember was "What's the worst that can happen?" It still rings true today.

So if you want something... ask. What's the worst thing that can happen? They just might say "no." Big deal.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Virtual Trade Shows

I was channel surfing last night and came across a story about quantum mechanics on the local public television station. The show's focus was on the movement of protons and how a group of teachers and students from Princeton University tried to comprehend and define the highly-technical topic. One theme that kept coming up was the existence of a parallel universe. Without getting into the science behind it, all I can say is that some theorists believe that there is an alternative reality out there. Let's leave it at that.

It's ironic that the show came into my life at this time because the agency has just introduced its own type of alternate reality product called the ShoPlace Trade Show Booth - think of it as a virtual trade show.

How does it work? Here's the sales pitch... Whether you host a trade show or are an exhibitor, we'll take the physical aspects of the booth or an entire trade show floor and recreate it for display on a special web landing page linked to a client's site or a unique website solely dedicated to the virtual trade show function.

The ShoPlace virtual booth immediately extends the working shelf life of a company's exhibit for as long as the client wants, can be accessed 365/24/7 (or for a predetermined shorter time frame ), collects leads, and even generates sale. Most important, it lets those who cannot attend or missed a trade show to visit at their own leisure.

Recreating the real world into the virtual will continue to grow exponentially. Look at the popularity of www.secondlife.com. It's basically a virtual world where users (known as "residents" on the site), create the life that they wish they had. If you always wanted to be a rock star, famous athlete, or 30 lbs. and 15 years younger you can... and just with a few clicks of the mouse.

Take a look at your own business... what can you move to the virtual world of the web that will expose your products and services to everyone who has a computer and Internet connection.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Productivity Consolidation

Legal pads, Post-It Notes, scraps of paper... how many modes of record keeping, reminders, and appointment tools are your using? Is there a better way? Can you consolidate your efforts?

For years I utilized a simple computer program to keep track of my meetings and to-dos. But I found that if I was out of the office and a client asked me to schedule a meeting, I couldn't because I wasn't in front of a computer. Even if I had my laptop with me, imagine if I had to boot-up every time I needed to check my calendar.

After a short trial period I soon settled on a three-ring binder in which I printed out a one-month per page calendar. In between months I inserted a clear pocket sheet protector that contains bills, invitations, and any document I may need to reference for that month. The binder has a zipper that keeps everything safe from falling out. I've been using the system for close to three years and it has served me very well.

There are many tools to keep you organized from Outlook, Remember the Milk, Google Calendar, and the list goes on and on. The bottom-line is to find out what program/system works best for you. Remember, there will be some trial-and-error... before I determined that the large three-ring binder worked for me, I tried a pocket-type calendar but quickly found that I couldn't fit all my "stuff" in the tiny, 1"x3" space allotted for each day.

If you're unsure of what different systems and programs are out there, just go to your favorite search engine and type in "calendar", "calendar system", "to-do list", "productivity", or "personal organization" and you'll realize the numerous and creative ways that have been developed to keep us productive, on-time, and efficient.

"Plan your work, and work your plan."

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fig Tree Provides Marketing Lesson

I just watched the company president unwrap his fig tree from a long winter's nap. For over an hour he took off bungee cords, rope, a tarp, and what looked like roofing paper. The tree's top shows evidence of pruning with a sharp knife prior to hibernation. Textbook gardening in my opinion.

Come September and October the tree will burst with plump, delicious figs, and soon family and friends, many of whom I only see around this time, will tip-toe into the backyard to snatch the juicy fruit for it's Vitamin A, C, and from what I understand, laxative properties.

The boss's actions over eight months ago allow him to reap a bountiful harvest. His preparation is a great example of effective marketing. Research, plan, implement, and as I saw him inspecting the tree after removal of its protective cover, to possibly adjust his future actions to improve his results.

My dad also has a fig tree that receives no pruning, no winter blanket, nothing. He does the complete opposite of my boss. The result? The fig tree produces small fruit and about a third of the yield. If dad was a marketing guy, he would fail miserably - no research, no planning, no implementation, and obviously, no results.

What to learn from this "Better Homes and Garden" moment? If you have planted the seed for a great marketing idea for your company or start-up, don't go in blindly. Do your homework, read some books, talk to the experts, budget, and most important, do something. Many marketing endeavors languish on the vine, never reaching their full potential and sometimes never having the opportunity to grow.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Magic Kingdom Still Does It Right

This year we're celebrating 3o years in business. To mark the occasion, the president took the staff and their families to Disney World in Florida. The vacation was spectacular. Not only was the weather beautiful but the Disney brand never let me down.

The parks were immaculately clean, the food in Epcot was delicious, and the Tower of Terror was awesome. The Magic Kingdom was the only property that showed a little wear and tear, but you had to look really, really close.

Spending four years in Florida I've been lucky enough to visit Disney many, many times. And with each trip I come to realize how successful companies build powerful brands. Like the McDonald's franchise, where you can expect your burger to taste EXACTLY the same no matter what joint you walk into, Disney has perfected the "magic" that delights children and adults alike so that when ever you visit, you know you're going to have one heck of a time - Ride the Jungle Cruise and you hear the same funny jokes. Get an autograph from Goofy and he signs it the same silly way. Have breakfast at the Polynesian Resort and you'll be greeted by the waitress with a boisterous, "Hey, cousin, it's good to see you again!" It's like your favorite sitcom where you can repeat the lines even before they're spoken. My eight year old son was amazed how I predicted what the cast of characters were about to do at the Hoop Dee Doo Review. "How did you know that?" he blurted out numerous times while BBQ sauce continuously dripped from his lips. I knew the routine all too well and envisioned me asking my dad the same question 36 years ago.

Businesses can learn some valuable lessons from Walt Disney. Specialize - do one thing extremely well. Systematize - make your business work for you even if you were away for an extended period of time. Systematization will also guarantee that your product or service will result in the same end-product each and every time your client makes a purchase. Have Fun - If you're not having fun, you're probably in the wrong business.

It's amazing how much you can learn from a little old mouse. It's a small world after all!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Pat Yourself on the Back Once in Awhile

Our agency made a presentation yesterday to unveil some of our new logo ideas? I'll admit we were a bit worried at the prospect that there would be about ten people in the room judging our work. We weren't nervous in the sense when a person is asked to speak in front of a large group, but more concerned at the sheer number of people who were going to be offering their opinions. As you know, trying to get more than two people to agree on something is difficult sometimes. Imagine the task before us to make everyone in the room happy to select a single logo from about 12 designs.

We started at 10am and finished up about an hour and a half later. The result? We listened, shared ideas, made suggestions, and whittled down the final designs to three. Even more surprising, we received a round of applause after our presentation. I was kind of shocked at the outward display of approval. Usually business meetings are much more reserved. A shaking of the hands is what I'm accustomed to so the clapping really surprised me. But you know what? It was nice. It was refreshing. And it was fun.

I wish more meetings were like this. I know “making money” and “showing a profit” should be, and is, serious business. But can’t it be fun too? The agency, fortunately, has many “fun” clients. But there are a few who are demanding, miserable, and quite frankly, downright nasty. What kind of client/customer are you? You don’t have to answer that. But after yesterday’s meeting I did some soul-searching and found that I could probably lighten it up a bit with my suppliers and vendors too.

So I applaud you for taking the time to improve your business acumen. And when you “hit a home run”, whether it’s very often or every once in a while, bask in the glow and enjoy that warm fuzzy feeling for as long as you possibly can.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Action Reaction

My eight year old son was in a heated debate with my 14 year old daughter this morning as they got ready for school. I didn't know how the argument began or what the subject matter was even about until he came up to me and said, "If my sister wasn't born would I have been born." I thought for about five seconds and said "No, you wouldn't have been born." No sooner had those words left my lips did I hear from behind the bathroom door "Ha, I told you so." I thought my son would be upset, but he accepted the fact and went about playing with his new Lego Police Station.

As I drove into work I thought about my response. I'll probably try to put a positive spin on my answer as we eat dinner tonight. But I still think I told the truth.

As in life as well as your business, everything you do has a consequence. Without having to do a Google search, I recall a saying, probably from some Chinese philosopher that said, "Even the little butterfly's wings that go up and down affect the air current half way around the world." What you do today... sending a thank you letter, making that phone call, or even worse, not making that phone call, all have a part, whether small or large, on your success.

The greatest ideas you may have are worth nothing without action. Knowledge is not power, but knowledge put into action is the greatest power of all.

Take action today.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Give It Up

With Ash Wednesday upon us, Catholics are preparing to celebrate the 40 days of Lent. Giving up sweets, being a little more considerate, and abstaining from the most private of bad habits, are the focus for many preparing for the Easter holiday.

Taking religion out of the equation, what are you prepared to give up to make more time and to save more money for acquiring new business and surviving this "recession"? Are you wasting your day on non-qualified leads? Should you scrap your old website for one that actually sells your product or service? Is your Yellow Page advertisement too big and expensive? Can you save a few dollars by not sending your four-color brochure to every Tom, Dick, and Harry?

Tough times calls for tough measures. Look around and see what you can cut out, eliminate, and scale down to make you and your company better, faster, and stronger.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Stamp Prices Rise

On May 11th the price of a first-class stamp will go up a couple more pennies to 44¢. This increase is just another indication that you should be taking more advantage of technology to reduce your business costs.

E-mail is the most obvious tool for you to reduce postage, paper consumption, and time. Pay those bills on-line rather than through the USPS. Print internal copies on the backs of already printed material or use those backs for scrap paper. Shut off computers when not in use.

Some of my personal money-saving tips include... shaking the toner cartridge so I get the very last drop out of it, reusing folders a dozen times over, reading my local newspaper on-line rather than subscribing, not buying pens or pencils until my supply is completely gone, and keeping all of my to-dos/appointments/bills in a three-ring binder (not only a money saving practice but a time saver as well).

That's my two cents worth of wisdom for today... you'll need it on May 11th when you visit the post office.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I Wanna Go Fast

As in the famous words of Rick Bobby, the race car driver in Talladega Nights, "I wanna go fast" should be the mantra of sales professionals each and every day.

Admit it, we are the Blackberry generation... multi-tasking whenever we can... reading while exercising, talking while driving, texting while eating. There's no escaping it.

Our customers want things right away. I'm just as demanding... when I call a company to place an order or resolve an issue... I want answers fast. And god forbid I'm put on hold!

But there is a bright lining to the madness. If you are in sales and can be the first to respond to a prospect's request, there's a very good chance that you'll get the sale. To wit... I have a buddy in the construction business; if you know the industry or have ever had to call a painter, roofer, plumber or other tradesman you know what I mean. Many are "fly by nights" and rough around the edges (not all of them, mind you). My friend does extremely well year after year for one reason, and one reason only. He answers his phone. "I truly think my success is based on the fact that I answer the phone when it rings or when customers leave a message I call them back before the end of the day," he said. "It's that simple."

I can attest to his strategy. If I'm the first to respond to a sales lead I increase my success rate ten-fold. I've had customers say, "I guess you're getting the job because you're the only one who took the time to call me back." Sweet!

So the next time you think to return a call "after lunch," why not take a few minutes before you leave and dial that number. The other end may hold a wonderful and profitable opportunity.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Please Be Brutally Honest

Marketing plans based on hearsay and internal opinions waste a ton of money every year for many businesses. Product designs, colors, pricing, and placement are but a few of the miscues sales and marketing people make. It's not that they're unintelligent, it's just that most believe that they know what's best for their "baby"... they become emotionally attached - that's not good.

Traditional market research, focus groups, prototypes, redesigns, and revamping the unique selling proposition can drain a budget real quick. Fortunately there's help... it's called the Internet.

Scientific Marketing Services, the New Jersey-based marketing and multi-media resource agency for businesses throughout the world has come up with a low-cost web-based product called MarketLink™ that gathers information directly from your marketplace... year around.

Using the SMS MarketLink™ you get the straight, unadulterated scoop from your customer’s mouths straight to your ear. Sometime what you hear may not be flattering and may be hard to take, especially if it goes against what your sales people, dealers or others have been telling you; but you’ll always learn important facts that might otherwise be ignored, to your own detriment.

Are the comments always right? Certainly not, but they are always thought provoking, and they can help you identify wrong impressions and other subtle, and not so subtle problems in your marketplace, or with your customers... before it’s too late.

You can check out the program's details in this month's SMS e-jottings newsletter which is hot off the press. Send me an e-mail and I'll send it to you.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Secret to Keeping Clients

All too often your clients and customers leave because of lack of communication. I'm not talking about regular contact activities such as a weekly call or the sending of a newsletter... although these simple techniques should not be forgotten. I'm referring to serious communication... one-on-one dialog. Whenever you get a new customer blatantly ask them "What do you want to accomplish?" If they respond, "I want more customers" or "to increase my sales" ask them "how many more customers will make you happy?" and "how much would you like to increase your sales by?" This is true communication. It's also communication that will make you a star. It's Goal Setting 101 - i.e., you never set a goal to lose weight, you set a goal to lose 10 pounds.

Try it out the next time you sit down with your customers. Ask the tough questions and be ready to produce results. It's only after this back and forth exchange will you truly be able to develop a reputation for getting things done and keeping clients very, very happy.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Move Please

Gloom, despair, stocks plunging, corporate profits down, Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme, layoffs... when will it end? No one really knows. I don't care who you listen to on the TV or radio... the pundits don't know any more than you. And while times are tough and money is tight, you need to stay focused on what you can control.

Keep plugging along... keep making calls... keep prospecting... keep researching... keep writing... keep your head up. Most important, don't pay one iota to the "other guy". Stay focused on what's working for you. There has to be something positive going on in your life. Now's not the time to shrivel up and die.

This is the time for opportunity. Go out there and tell the other guy to move over!