Seller Beware

December 9, 2009

This past Sunday I participated in a “Go See” Cub Scout requirement with my son and god son.  The event was the local university’s women’s basketball game – the idea being that watching/learning/understanding an ‘organized’ sport is useful or has merit – somehow. 

As we sat there amidst all the ‘team-spirit’ pre-game hype, I consoled myself and accepted the fact that I was stuck there for the duration.  Next to me, two seven year olds played relentlessly with their arm chair and begged for popcorn.  It was going to be a long two hours.The national anthem sung, popcorn in hand, the game clock set to that ‘big lie’ 20 minutes, and we were off.  I am not sure we made it to 19 minutes on that clock when the first; “Can we go?” hit me from the right. 

Fighting my own personal desire to stand-up and run out of the building; I began a feeble attempt to sell a ‘brand’ I didn’t believe in.  You can just imagine how well that worked for me and for my trapped customers who could smell my lack of sincerity and knowledge, for that matter.  We ended up playing ‘watch the game clock and see it go to zero’ – with loud protests every time it stopped and a non-stop barrage of questions as to why and when it would start again. We made it through the first half.

What is important here?   

Selling is a process by which we transfer beliefs – getting others to believe the way you do about the product or service.  (While I failed to ‘sell-in’ the basketball game; I sure succeeded in this transfer.)  How well we transfer those beliefs boils down to how well we do the following two things:

A confident approach is a critical key to success. How many of us check out online reviews of products or services to see just ‘how confident’ the raves are before we commit to being a consumer?

Knowledge is useful too.  Maybe if I had known more about the game I could have captured more of their mindshare – away from the moving arm rest and popcorn.  No such luck.

And beware, when you try to sell something you don’t believe in, you risk your reputation.  Afterwards, I had to confess to my son that I too found the game boring for fear that I would lose credibility with him and my ability to convince him to “buy” future products from me.

Confidently, I encourage you to read my MarketingSmack.  It can be found at www.marketingsmack.wordpress.com or visit us at www.summitstrategypartners.com.

Blinded by the Light

June 3, 2009

This past weekend I spent three and a half days on Sunset Beach with 27 other martial artists training eight hours a day.  It’s an annual grueling occurrence for my martial arts group, and for those mothers out there, it is somewhat akin to childbearing – in the midst of all the pain, you swear you’ll never do it again, only to find yourself back there a year later.

I had an epiphany during our last sparring workout.  It was early morning, the sun was low in the sky, and I somehow managed to keep each of my opponents facing the sun.  Something clicked, and after almost four years of no-strategy, haphazard, throw-a-kick-out-there-see-if-it-lands sparring I was actually employing a STRATEGY.   

How often do we follow the bright shiny object, or react when we should be planning? 

I know Summit’s been guilty of it every now and again – a potential piece of business presents itself that isn’t in our sweet spot, but we pursue it anyway. The result is never our best work, and it sometimes exacts a great cost.  When you have limited resources—and who doesn’t these days—it’s critical to stay the course. 

Don’t have a course?  Here’s how to get one.

  1. Create a situation analysis, self-evaluation and competitor analysis: both internal and external; both micro-environmental and macro-environmental.
  2. Set objectives. Put them against a timeline; short-term and long-term.
  3. Craft a vision statement, a mission statement, overall corporate, and, if needed, strategic business unit objectives (both financial and strategic), and last but not least tactical objectives.

When you are done you’ll have a clear picture of where you stand today, where you’d like to be in the future and how you plan to get there.  Be at peace with the fact that you cannot and should not be the right choice for everyone.  Focus on those who need and are receptive to your product/service and your approach to doing business.  Your laser sharp business strategy and Disruptive ConversationTM will surely blind your competition.

Or, you can stare a little into the sun and take one right on the chin.

Wanna get smacked? Try some Marketingsmack today at www.marketingsmack.wordpress.com.

Or, visit us at: www.summitstrategypartners.com.

I’ve thought about this question a great deal, mostly from the perspective of Summit’s positioning.  Finally, I threw the question out to my LinkedIn network – a savvy group of people – and just as I expected, I received a flurry of answers touting the benefits of one over the other or going for the Holy Grail, as defined by McKinsey’s Concept of T, and demanding both.

It seems that I am not the only one struggling with this question.

Recently we have been in talks with a bio-tech firm about helping them penetrate a new market.  Their legitimate concern is how they will trust that we can guide them if we aren’t deep experts in their vertical.

Now mind you, this isn’t the first time I’ve encountered this hesitation.  It’s tricky to address your prospects’ concerns about your level of expertise in their industry. 

Clearly, if you view Summit’s client list, you’ll see breadth. But we also have very deep marketing and PR knowledge.  And more importantly, I believe smarts and chemistry are far more critical success factors than either breadth or depth.  It’s hard to accomplish great things with someone who doesn’t inspire you.

So ask if your marketing partner is smart enough and experienced enough to access the minds of the experts in the targeted industry.  And, is the chemistry between you one that breeds success?

You, as the company, know your industry better than anyone else, save analysts. If you hire someone with deep industry knowledge, you get that same knowledge, but may run the risk of getting a bit of “group think”.  If you have someone smart who can ask the tough questions, you may discover what you don’t know or find that ‘testing’ your resolve is an additional benefit – right along with that really effective lead generation campaign you requested.

My network generously pointed out that arguments can be made for either and/or both. But no matter what you believe, never settle for anything less than smarts and great chemistry.

Have a little Marketingsmack at www.marketingsmack.wordpress.com.

 Or, visit us at: www.summitstrategypartners.com

How do you get noticed?  How do you get mindshare?  And most importantly how do you get chosen?

I’m an avid networker.  I try to spend time with at least eight new people a month AND re-connect with five.  It’s something I enjoy – and let’s face it – it helps keep Summit on people’s minds.

Individual one-on-ones take time, energy and effort to maintain.  It’s not unlike dating. (Of course, not everyone agrees.) There are other strategies that would allow me to get my message out to many at once (and clearly I employ some of those as well – like this blog and Summit’s FaceBook Page).  But in my experience the individual relationships I foster and maintain are what keeps my company’s pipeline full.

Here are my very strict rules of engagement:

  1. Always find a way to be introduced by someone they know
  2. Always ask personal and professional questions (the personal information helps me ‘remember’ people better)
  3. Always ask what you can do for them (and follow-through)
  4. NEVER sell your services

Let me re-state that – I NEVER sell my services at one of these meetings.

Last summer, three-quarters of the way through a ‘get to know you’ meeting, my colleague began asking specific questions about how Summit might be able to help his company.  What specific services might I recommend and why?  I very politely refused to engage in the conversation.  I told him that I wasn’t there to sell him services. “But what if I want to talk about your services?” was his response.  I told him I’d be happy to set-up a subsequent meeting to have that discussion.

At 9 a.m. the next morning an email came over with the subject line – “Now, can we talk about your services?”  He’s been a client ever since.

Of course, not every meeting turns out like that, but enough ‘first dates’ turn into relationships to keep Summit humming along.

Let us know about your relationship with work. Tell us how you get picked up. And leave the one stand talk out of it!

Wake up in morning with a little MarketingSMACK at www.marketingsmack.wordpress.com, or visit us at: www.summitstrategypartners.com.

Jack

The Fickle Customer

April 20, 2009

The Fickle Customer

I have always viewed my son as my customer and sometimes, employee. I manage his growth, meet his demands, ensure the ROI of his young life (he’ll be responsible for it later).

Last week, on a school night that ended late, he requested, pleaded—implored that we have spaghetti and meatballs. Mind you, this request is truly three standard deviations from the usual dinner suspects. I tried the local pizza take-out route with no luck, so I was left winging it.

Let me just say, I had NEVER made meatballs before.

It’s 6:30 and I found myself buying ground meat. I think we all get the picture. There is still the ‘get the kid ready for bed’ process that needs to be carefully timed against that looming 8 p.m. bedtime deadline.

About an hour later, he’s showered, in pjs and meatballs are on the plate – complete with red sauce and a pile of spaghetti. Phew – I’ve met expectations, delivered on time and on budget. My client will be so pleased.

One look, one small bite and this tiny tyrant of a customer informs me that he FORGOT—he doesn’t really LIKE meatballs. Fickle.

* * * * *

We’ve all had them – customers that make us jump through hoops of fire while juggling sharp blades only to inform us that ‘eh, that’s not what I was looking for’. Or, worse yet, they keep changing their minds….pushing further and further, frustrating us while scope-creeping us into “Would you like fries with that?” wages.

We call this business you don’t want. And while we still end up with business we don’t want, we’ve gotten better at avoiding or ameliorating it.

Here are some tips to running your client relationships the way you both will feel satisfied and successful:

  • Set, document and agree to clear objectives.

  • Develop and agree to metrics.

  • Get signoffs at milestones.

  • Communicate status, progress, and potential issues in a timely manner.

  • Have the post-mortem check-up – find out want went well and what needs improvement.

And lastly, remember that your relationship is win/win.

As a customer-driven organization, Summit strives for 100% referenceable customers. But while we do what it takes to get it done for our customers, they have to measure up too.

Good marketing isn’t a commodity. Our customer referenceability metric assumes our customer will want to continue to work with us—that good work should perpetuate our relationship.

As for my meatball son, he has a captive vendor in me. I have a different set of tips for dealing with him.

Get yourself a little MarketingSMACK! at www.marketingsmack.wordpress.com

Or, visit us at: www.summitstrategypartners.com

Jack

Illegal Breast Stroke

April 13, 2009

I am having a dickens of a time keeping my personal life out of the Summit blogs. I guess, at the end of the day, I have one life. That being said……

Last week I had my first official ‘adult swim lesson’. I decided I needed to add something else to my already-lengthy list of exercise routines. I made a barter arrangement with a very successful triathlete and training coach, Stacey Richardson. (See how cleverly I am holding up my end of the barter agreement by promoting her services in this blog?)

It took me about 10 minutes, and unfortunately I am NOT exaggerating, to figure out how to put on the one-piece Speedo. Then, there was the ‘how do these flippin’ goggles go on my head’ struggle? Needless to say I screamed ROOKIE to all those calm, capped graceful swimmers. And when Stacey said “Show me your breast stroke” I felt my heart race and muscles tense. I was in foreign waters—literally. I knew it and my performance reflected my uncertainty.

Ready for the great leap to the world of business?

I have this conversation with almost everyone I meet. “There’s no point in jumping in to the deep end if you don’t prepare yourself, at least to the best of your ability, for success.”

The other side of that coin is that even when you have prepared — you’re wearing the right suit and goggles (or you have spent time with your customers and ‘wish list’ customers to understand what they want and what speaks to them) — there is still a level of uncertainty and risk when the ‘show me your stuff’ moment hits.

While occasionally you may be called out on your ‘illegal breast stroke kick’, the fundamental ingredients: understand your target, speak your Disruptive ConversationTM, know who else is talking to your audience and what is being said, rely on the conduits your target trusts for information and deliver that information the way they want it–will give you a competitive advantage over most of the others in your pool.

This type of preparation is essential. And when it comes time to show-off that breast stroke, you won’t come up gasping for air.

(P.S. Anticipating all those wise-guy remarks: I know, I know, we put on our bathing suits one leg at a time.)

The Gecko Must Die

March 20, 2009

Which came first, the Caveman or the Gecko?

I used to actually like some of the Geico advertising. I thought it was clever. But now I’m annoyed.

For months, when the first few Caveman ads came out, I would blurt out: “I’ll have the roasht duck with the…mango shalsha” as if I too had Neanderthal jaws.

Yes, I know. I’m linking to Geico and giving them play even as I rant.

The thing is, too much of a good thing truly is bad. Especially with their lizard, Geico is all over the radio, TV, and next to my news articles on the Web.

And now, they torture us with “Somebody’s Watching Me,” that lame 80s song from (who remembers) Rockwell. No. I won’t link to this.

It’s overexposure. It’s untargeted, and it’s annoying.

As you know, Summit does strategic marketing. It’s in our best interest to encourage companies to market. But smartly. Doing the equivalent of hosing consumers down isn’t smart. I say it again. It’s annoying.

So I’d like to propose two ideas: 1) The Gecko must die. And, 2) Companies should target their audiences with one-to-one marketing and reach out to them personally.  Amazon, with its personalization engine, gets this. It recommends to you what it projects you personally would like. Smart.

One-to-one marketing is not just a name on a mailing label or email address. We’re talking about a postcard and/or email message that seems to know you, know your area, and demonstrates this in the copy. Then, it directs you to a Personal URL with your name in it. All wrapped up with a reason to respond.

We’re doing this now with a partner. We’re seeing the response rate jump. And we know who is responding and when. This is smart marketing. Not zipcode blasting.

Why not give it a Marketingsmack! and see if you can hit a home run over the fence? Ask Jack about it.

As for Geico, they should try HULU on the web, where consumers can select the ad, the length and the placement. It’s better than video spamming us with cavemen, lizards, and 80s washout musicians.

(P.S. It’s NCAA Hoops Finals time. Take a break, view the funniest SMACK you’ll see in the tournament, and send this blog to friend.)

For the last nine months I’ve had in my possession an epi-pen – a just-in-case precaution for a phantom allergy that attacks without warning. I’ve often wondered if I’d have the nerve to actually jam that needle into the side of my thigh. Do I have what it takes?

Turns out, I do. I’m better now. And wiser for the experience.

What in the world does this personal story have to do with a business blog? I found myself, maybe due to the sleep and food deprivation, drawing an analogy. I wondered: “Who is going to make it to the other side of this economic down-turn? Who has the nerve to do what it takes to survive – to jam that needle and plunge.”

The companies and individuals that refuse to run scared are going to survive. More than survive – they’ll flourish.

I recently read an article in Money magazine that imparted this lesson, among other important ones: “If your competitors are in retreat, you can build your market presence.” Summit is grateful to have some pretty smart clients – clients that view this time as opportunistic and have continued to spend wisely to remain in front of their constituents. This is not to say that they haven’t changed the mix— they have, as have a lot of companies, according to a recent Duke Fuqua School of Business study showing marketing growth this year despite the economy.

In some ways, looking like you’re doing well is half the battle. People feel reassured that ‘you’re in it for the long haul’ if they see you as healthy and pursuing business with vigor.

But if you can’t change with the times, if you can’t ride the waves of technology and customer expectations, then no amount of posturing will help and you may well be the next RBW implosion. For RBW, clients reigned in their ad budgets, media outlets insisted on being paid directly, and suddenly, a great agency went “Poof!” owing more than it was worth.

Could RBW have adapted to encompass new areas to spend client money outside traditional advertising? Maybe. We don’t know all of the reasons they failed. But they did. And I can’t help but think it’s because they couldn’t take the shot.

Painful, maybe – but when death is the alternative – jamming seems like an easy choice.

I’d love to hear your stories of bravery. What, if you can share without giving away top secrets, are you doing to stay in the game? Tell us here.

Telling your story for you – the customer success story.

OK—Quick quiz: Where does the technology vendor rank in the credibility pyramid?

1st  2nd 3rd 4th

If you said 4th, you’re dead right. At the top of that pyramid, people trust their own experience, the experience of others like them and media, analysts or objective third parties. This is why the Customer Case Study is so valuable.

Whether you call them Case Studies or Success Stories, these testimonials are an essential part of your marketing mix. Having customers tell your story for you is one of the best ways to get the word out. If you Google customer case study, you’ll find companies such as Dell have entire case study centers. Sun includes its case studies on its Customer Reference Program page, which is the ideal uberstrategy for customer case studies.

Approaching a customer can yield more than just a story. First off, you can obtain a quote, excellent for collateral, presentations and the website. Then there is the quick case—just a few paragraphs that can be placed on the web to entice further exploration. And of course, there’s the full case. This can follow the angles you choose:  A successful partnership, ROI, a competitive advantage.

Create the right mix:

Don’t simply select your biggest or best companies. Look for hooks that will help people relate. Choose industries, choose unique applications and demonstrate the breadth of your products and services.

Include the right things:

  • Sell through the headline and the first two paragraphs
  • Use bullet point summaries
  • Include images
  • Choose a pull-quote to pop off the page

Promote it right

Pitch it to media before publishing it on your site. Link to it from your blog or from your company Facebook page. Reference it in newsletters to customers, and communications with analysts and partners.

Engage a media partner to host it and e-blast promotional materials on it. They can drive traffic to a registration page that captures their contact information. This can cost thousands, but can deliver hundreds of leads. Did you make a video or podcast? Host in from your site and put it out on Youtube. This video from Summit’s customer Mi-Corporation only references a customer, but aptly shows the power of the technology backed by the customer’s savings.

Summit can show you how a customer case study can play a role from PR to sales support, to partner recruitment, to internal morale boosting. Tell us how you approach customer case studies. We’ll show you how to leverage them even further.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.