Is the Internet Killing Our Hunters?

Most of us that have built businesses remember the hunter. We remember what it took to identify prospects, make contact, build a relationship and wait for the opportunity. That was the old fashioned way to generate leads.  Fast forward to today and we are inundated by companies that will fill our inboxes full of qualified leads, waiting to cut a purchase order. And like a lot of technology we have to ask, is this helping us, or making us dumber, weaker and lazier?

Recently I read an article about lead generation here on Linkedin, and I made a simple comment that I wouldn’t be surprised if the process has turned our sales forces into little birds waiting for mom to return home with the bounty. Within a few minutes I got a message from a friend that said essentially “oh my god, I have an entire sales force of these types.” She went on to say that most of them have either forgotten the process or have abandoned it, relying almost completely on marketing to sustain the sales funnel.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t try to nurture leads online and with other forms of promotions and advertising. But I’m asking a question that you might want to ponder for your own sales force. Do they remember how to determine who is a valid prospect for your company’s products and services? Do they know how to make contact, introduce your company, represent your brand, build a relationship and get the opportunity? Or has your sales force, or part of it turned into simple quoting machines that get a lead, make a call and provide a quote. And, keep in mind, when someone contacts you for a quote via the internet, you’re likely not the only one he or she is seeking. I might consider the following (if I had sales people):

  • Be sure that when you’re tracking quoting opportunities or “leads” that you identify the source of each one, including sales rep generated.
  • Make sure you have training to ensure that sales forces understand the sales opportunity development process, that they know your products and services, and most importantly that they know how to listen! Here’s an article I wrote over a decade ago about the differences between teaching and training.
  • Set a benchmark for self-developed leads for your sales force, to help identify those falling behind, and how to help them develop more self-developed sales opportunities.
  • Besides generating leads, be sure you have a plan to develop Top of Mind Awareness so that when a sales opportunity arises, your prospect seeks your out via internet, email, social media or phone.

As a sales rep for over three decades I always found the most value in developing relationships and cultivating customers from those relationships. Call-ins were nice, but none of us relied upon them, that’s for certain. So take time to ponder that question for yourself.

If your answer is no, your sales force still hunts, that’s great. But I’d bet dollars to donuts that there are a lot of you out there that can identify more than one person in your sales force that has forgotten the hunter, and waits to be fed.  That’s something today’s companies and sales forces can not afford. Help them become the hunter they need to be. Then when the leads come in, make them a treat to be savored.

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Building Your Brand and Keeping It

Branding is not science. Every business that creates a business and opens the door starts branding immediately. The question is, who is controlling and building your brand?

I could go on for days about the ways you build a brand, but let’s stay at the 30,000 foot level and grasp a concept. When you think of a brand, you are automatically filled with emotions about that brand. If I mention Rolex watches, it is likely you will immediately have a good feeling about the brand even though most of us don’t own a Rolex. Why and how does this happen?

The simple answer is that Rolex has systematically promoted the image of quality, reliability, prestige and accuracy in every message and point of contact you’ve encountered with them. Whether it is their spokesperson (Jack Nicklaus) or the magazine’s they advertise in (Forbes etc…), it all adds up to the adjectives I described above. Rolex maintained control over the brand, image and message, and they proactively promoted the message.

How do you control your brand? Simply put, you manage every single touch-point that your customers and prospects have with your brand, your employees, your vans, your uniforms, your building, and your sales person’s automobiles. For example, you have worked hard to establish your brand as a dealership of integrity, reliability, quality, class etc. You have used email, your website, social media, sales literature and the like to build your brand. Then your sales person shows up for the first call in a pull over shirt and driving a beat up, dirty car. There is an immediate juxtaposition in your prospect’s mind. “Who are they really?” I think you get the picture. Branding is literally everything you do that your current and potential customers can see, hear and experience.

Often times, manufacturers will attempt to leverage their brand through brand “blending” (blending their brand with yours). This should be given great consideration. Your brand could well be leveraged by piggybacking off the brand of your manufacturer. However, as many Firestone Dealerships found out years ago, one wrong move by the manufacturer, and your brand could take an enormous hit through no fault of your own. You relinquish a degree of control over your brand when you allow blending to occur with your manufacturer, so consider all the potential upsides and downsides before you do so.

Branding is not a complicated process. It takes time, management and planning, but if you control your brand, you control perception of your business.That’s a powerful position to be in, just ask Rolex. For more information on branding, Contact Us or give us a call at 502.298.4502.

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2015 U.S. Economic Predictions

In 2014, the United States has seen the most dramatic economic improvements since the years before the 2008 Great Recession took hold of our economy and markets, creating pandemonium and fear around the globe. All economic indicators from most major sources point toward continued increases in 2015. With this positive outlook comes the potential for prosperity for all companies that are prepared for the continued improvements in our economic climate.

Kiplinger reported that the 4th quarter was down slightly, but it constituted an adjustment that is fairly normal after several quarters of improvements. Their outlook for the 2015 economy includes continued job growth, shrinking unemployment and improved spending by consumers, which constitutes over 70% of our economy. This increased spending will improved the job market even more, resulting in more disposable income, and increased spending on recreation and travel—which took a big hit during the recession that lasted more than five years. A good part of this increase, as well as other economic benefits, will come from the continued price pressure on oil.

Goldman Sachs is predicting that oil prices will maintain levels of around $75 to $85 a barrel for 2015. Much of this comes from non-OPEC countries, like Brazil, which are increasing their output dramatically to capture and compete with OPEC countries. This, combined with shale production in the US, will keep pressure on the price of oil. That translates to not only increased spending on travel and recreation, but lower costs for transport companies, manufacturers, distributors and materials handlers of most of the products we consume. The energy outlook will no doubt contribute to continued economic improvements in the US and countries that purchase products here in the US. Moreover, shale production, which allows for much more competitive energy production than oil, is helping to lure manufacturers to the United States. That will further improve our economic outlook with higher-paying manufacturing jobs.

Consumer confidence as measured by the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Poll came in at 88.8 for November. This is above the non-recessionary years of 87 and well above the recessionary low-point of 51. This positions consumer confidence well above the average of 69.4 during our recent recession.  There are no factors on the 2015 horizon that might indicate a tremendous negative impact on consumer confidence. When consumers are confident, they spend. And when consumers spend, we all enjoy the benefits.

A recent Reuters report predicts the Gross Domestic Product for 2015 will increase by some 3.3 percent. This is up from the 2.2-percent expansion expected for 2014. According to the National Association of Business Economics, this will further improve job market prospects and push unemployment to an anticipated level of 5.4 percent.

What this means for our markets is an increase in manufacturing and distribution products like heavy equipment and machinery. These purchases will further improve the micro-economic climate of our industry, providing opportunities for all companies that are prepared to take advantage of 2015’s expectations.

This likely means increased business for your material handling dealership. Managing your professional image and message, keeping it consistent and on a regular schedule is what we do best. Want a professional marketing partner for your material handling dealership? Contact me or give me a call directly at 502.298.4502.

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Sometimes You Just Need to “Let Him Go”

This recording recently went viral when a Comcast customer was trying to disconnect service and the customer “service” rep on the other end of the line simply could not let him go. Hopefully it’s an outlier and not indicative of how cable companies train their employees when someone wants to terminate service.

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Marketing: Back to the Basics, Again

back_to_basicsBack in the late 1980’s, I sold large format commercial graphics, such as giant truck graphics and wall graphics for commercial and retail use. The company I worked for was one of the industry’s leaders.  We had very close ties to the 3M Company, which was very active in providing constant up-to-date sales training for its sales force.

I attended many of these two and three day events. For those of you who are in personal selling and aren’t fresh out of college, you remember the days of identifying customer buyer types, how to deal with each, placing each in one of four nicely constructed quadrants etc…  Remember how complex selling became?

Then one day, we all beat cheeks up to Minnesota for a two day sales training entitled “Back to the Basics.” Yep, the scientists of sales had surrendered. They realized the more we focused on the complex, the less attention we paid to the basics, like making sure you had your day organized, your shoes were shined, you had plenty of brochures and knew your products like the back of your hand.

Fast forward a thousand years (OK, just a few decades,) and here we are poised at the brink of marketing overload. I’m a seasoned marketing veteran (not be be confused with a guru, which I am NOT,) and I can tell you, if I get one more email from a client that asks, “How do we adapt this new social media app into our marketing efforts?” I might bang my head on my desk until I am senseless.

Now that we all know where I stand with regards to taking a drink from the marketing fire hose of information and application, let me offer my two and a half cents on the state of marketing in 2014. Let’s break it down to the basics as I see them.

For those of you with an outside sales force, they are your primary marketing tool.  So for the love of all that is good, be sure they:

  • are well trained on your products and services and have the proper sales materials to do their jobs.
  • know who your most likely customers are and are calling on the right types of clients. If you are a small company, calling on the General Motors of the world is a monumental waste of their time and your money.
  • are trained in planning and organizing their day/week/month to manage their time and territory efficiently and productively. Windshield time is non-productive time; be sure it is kept to a minimum.
  • represent your brand/company properly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ridden with sales reps whose cars are filthy, their shirts are un-ironed, brochures are all over the back seat, and they tell me “my clients don’t care about this stuff.” Trust me….they do.
  • being managed! You or someone you trust needs to be managing their efforts. We know there are always one or two sales people in every sales force that you can truly let go and trust to do all of the above without a second glance. But we also know how bell-curves work, and there will be a majority of your sales force that needs direction and needs to be kept on task to make sure they are working efficiently, creating relationships and closing sales. And remember, even your best employees benefit from positive feedback and reinforcement.

These are the five basics of developing and maintaining an effective and productive sales force. Sure, you can add one or two other things if you like, but to me. these are the very basics that MUST be driven home and perfected before you ever worry about being sure you can identify buyer types and learn how to react to them.

That’s not to say that additional sales training, such as learning to LISTEN is not useful, but just like any successful sporting teams, you’ll hear that coach talk about drilling on the basics or fundamentals until no one on the team has to give them a thought, then continuing to drill on them.

Backing up the outside (or inside) sales force are your other marketing efforts, which is where a lot of the effort comes off the tracks as you fire up your computer everyday to learn there is yet another social media platform you need to tackle. Listen: it is better to be a master at one or two facets of marketing than to dabble in all of them.

Marketing basics depend a little upon your customer or prospects and the information you have, but for a B2B setting, my ideal marketing support would look like this:

  • A professional website that not only shares your products and services with your markets, but shares your knowledge and proves to your audience that doing business with you is a smart thing to do. Think of your website as a place that people want to come back to, because when they do, they find some value in doing so. Maybe you are sharing information they can use, uploading forms they can use as checklists, providing technical data on products they use, or you have built your site as a reference. I would have someone managing my website that understands this and will keep it organized, clean and tidy, as well as updated on a regular basis.
  • I would have a robust eMail marketing program. At a minimum, I would send it monthly or maybe twice monthly at a maximum. Have it professionally put together. I subscribe to many, and too often I see sites that have someone untrained who tries to write copy, edit, format photographs and produce an eNewsletter that represents your brand professionally. It is worth the investment to have it done right. Look at it this way, would you hire someone with no experience to work on your clients’ products? Then don’t employ them to do your marketing; it’s a bad business decision. On that point, let me take this opportunity to shamelessly plug my eMail Marketing Program. OK, let’s move on.
  • If you don’t have eMail addresses, collect them and start planning to institute a program ASAP. Until then, consider direct mail to supplement your eMail marketing programs. These days, direct mail reaches the desk and doesn’t need to be opened. Simple post cards can create marketing awareness with simple messages combined with sales promotions. With clients that have email addresses, I still suggest direct mail marketing to targeted prospects that you want to really focus on for the year. By selecting a smaller target market, you can budget more reaches to a smaller audience.
  • You should be developing company pages on Linkedin, Facebook and Google Plus and start sharing content that I post on my website on these social media platforms. Social Media platforms are becoming a bigger part of Search Engine Optimization, and having links to these social media outlets and links from these outlets back to content on your website will help tie it all together.

Those are the basics of marketing as I see them. Others may see them somewhat differently, but most marketing professional’s basics will look something like what I have outlined.

Once you’ve become proficient and have these basics rolling, start developing a blog similar this one, adding a YouTube channel and sharing visual tips or information that is best served via video, then plunge into other social media sites like Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and the like.

Having solid basics is like having a solid root system on a tree. Like Mr. Miyagi says, “strong root grows strong tree, can withstand anything and grow big and live long,” or something like that anyway. You get the idea. Thanks for reading!

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Sales and Marketing: Knowing the Differences

I often hear the terms sales and marketing used almost interchangeably. While personal sales is a very integral part of marketing in a B2B setting, marketing is not selling, it is much,  much more.

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When you think about marketing, it is essentially everything you do! From how well your building and lot is kept, how clean your service/delivery vehicles are kept, how your receptionist answers the phone to how easy it is to do business with you. It’s impossible to compact a marketing degree and 25 years into a blog post, but I encourage you to do this; for the next day, when you are working in your office, having a meeting, talking to a customer or employee ask yourself “I wonder how this impacts the image, position and sales of my company?” It is exemplified by some recent experiences of my own.

I ride my bike, a lot; road bike and mountain bike. Last year I tried a different bike shop to service my bikes on recommendations from others. When I first took a bike there a fellow helped me out. He wasn’t pleasant. He wasn’t rude, but he just seemed to be going through the motions…finishing a set of paperwork without a word to me, until he finished and asked what he could do for me. I overlooked it and the repair/service came out fine my bike worked great. Then last fall the same thing happened, only this time it almost seemed like he was being punished for being there and was again, not rude, but very curt with me…very “as matter of fact.” Once again, I overlooked it and they serviced my bike. This Spring it happened again, same guy, same tired old service and you know what? I’ve decided there are other bike shops with good service that will actually enjoy having my business, greet me warmly and treat me like they appreciate my business. THAT is a LACK of understanding marketing. And it happens all the time in business. Rude receptionist, dirty salesman’s cars, un-ironed shirts, service techs that lack personal skills or don’t clean up properly after a service, bills that are incorrect and can’t get corrected. It’s ALL part of marketing your business.

So while the marketing world tries to distract us with social media, personalized landing pages, Twitter and the like, keep in mind; marketing is much much more that how to sell the product that’s on the shelves right now. It’s EVERYTHING you do!

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The Most Important Piece of Paper in Your Office

If it’s not THE most important piece of paper, it is very near the top for most B2B companies. What is it, you ask? The business card.

Not yours, your prospects! I often hear from clients, “we would love to do more marketing, but we don’t know where to buy the data, or how accurate it is.”  I tremble at these words. Sitting in the drawers and closets of most of the sales force will be stacks of business cards banded together with strands of rubber. Or what I call, stacks of cash just sitting there waiting to be used.  How, you ask?

Well, first and foremost, most business cards include an email address. These email addresses are gold to your email marketing program. You don’t have a regular monthly email marketing program you say? Read what we have to say, and give us a call. Because if you’re not using email marketing to make regular contact with your prospects and customers, you’re relying on your sales force to do all the work, and they simply can’t create the type of awareness you need to keep your brand on the top of your prospect’s mind. We even have a video that calculates for you how much more cost-effective it really is to use email marketing to produce awareness than it is to rely solely on your sales force.

Second, there’s an address, right? Then as you append and add criteria to your contact information you can develop targeted direct mail programs to bolster awareness and reach those that do not open your emails. Segmenting by customer and prospect is the first step. Then I usually suggest breaking down the prospects and customers into potential with A’s being your best fit and going down from there. You can break it down by size if you like, or product used etc… How you break them down is up to you. But those are the two most popular. Remember, the more data you segment out, the harder it is to keep it all accurate. so keep your desire for segmented and targeted data balanced with your real ability to keep it all accurate. In the real world most of the time, the more data I see people trying to collect and keep accurate, the more it turns into rubbish. Now, back to the cards.

Oh sure, the sales people are using these business cards. They’ve logged the information into Outlook, their Franklin Planner (yes people still use them) or individual CRM. But this is no good to your organization if you’re not harvesting that data in a central location, adding and appending the information with notes the sales person has taken (what they use, when, how etc…) and developing a plan to market to them.

And for those who have a centralized CRM I usually ask “what’s your system of ensuring each and every sales call that results in a business card ends up in your CRM?” The answer is, sadly, that there usually isn’t one. If you lack a system, pull your sales force together with someone responsible for your CRM. If you don’t have a centralize CRM, I recommend a few cost-effective centralized systems like Salesforce, Zoho or Base. If you don’t want to go the online route, then set up a central spreadsheet (.xlsx) on a server or on one person’s PC and have all the data entered by one person. I’ve found the more chefs in the soup, the worse it starts to taste. Have your reps drop off the cards at the beginning of each day, and have the person return them in short order once the data is harvested. That’s just one recommendation. Like I said, pull your team together and work out a system that’s best for your business. But do something, and put someone in charge of it. No accountability = no results in my experience.

Remember business cards are 3.5″ x 2″ blocks of gold to your business. Don’t let them end up buried in piles in someones desk. You’re paying for this data! Demand it, then use it…create awareness and watch your market share improve.

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