Testimonials Sell

January 18, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Psst, hey you. Yes, you. Did you know there is a phenomenon that is affecting entrepreneurs from all sizes of companies? Yes, it is true. It’s called Inability to Ask for Testimonials Syndrome. If this affects you, never fear because the testimonial machine is here!

Here’s a quick formula you can use to create a questionnaire to give to your clients to quickly and easily extract testimonial gold.

  1. Please share with us how you would describe your company to a person you don’t know. Example: We have a large manufacturing company with four locations.
  2. Please share the problem you had when you first began working with us and what your thoughts were about this problem. Example: Our sales were at a standstill, and we didn’t know what to do. We weren’t even sure who to call.
  3. What result have you experienced from working with us? (Please be specific if you would like). Example: Our sales have increased 22 percent in only six months.
  4. What would you tell others about working with us? Example: If your sales are down and you want to increase them without adding a bunch of ‘stuff’ to the mix, then you need to call right away.

My experience tells me that people who love you want to help you. They will sing your praises to the mountaintops, they will refer, they will tell others how amazing you are, and with all of this, they will usually rarely give you a written testimonial unless it is solicited? Why? My hunch is that it goes back somewhere around second grade when everyone started to think that they couldn’t write. Regardless of the origin, this template can help you capture more testimonials and will help your clients give you one that really speaks to the hearts of your prospects!

Market Outside the Box: Two Beer Stories

January 16, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Quick, what do you think of when I say the word ‘marketing?’ Does advertising come to mind? Maybe a strategic marketing plan? What about beer? No?

Here are a couple of stories about marketing that you probably won’t forget anytime soon. Both deal with the age-old marketing problem – how do you set yourself apart from other players in an already overcrowded market?

These two stories are about beer. Why beer? Well, because beer is as common a product as any. If these companies could crack the marketing nut, so can you.

Blue Moon

If you are a new beer brewer, what would you do to stand apart from the competition? While I’m not sure it was a marketing slam dunk, Blue Moon’s presentation ended up being a huge stroke of luck for the Denver, Colorado brewery.

One of the ingredients in Blue Moon’s signature beer, Belgian White, is orange peel and coriander. It gives the beer a slightly citrus overtone (hey, I’m no connoisseur, so if I have this term wrong, forgive me). The creator of the brew, Keith Villa, suggested to bartenders that the beer be garnished with an orange slice. Imagine a tall glass of amber with a full round orange circle stuck over the edge of the glass similar to how a lemon slice adorns a glass of lemonade.

Legend tells that distributors attribute this curious custom to the wildfire take off of Blue Moon where patrons would see the strange drink and would say, “Hey, give me one of those!”

What could be better than creating a spectacle of your product and increasing sales in the process?

Pete’s Wicked Ale

Another micro brewer that came from humble and award-winning beginnings is Pete’s Wicked Ale. The Pete in “Pete’s” is Pete Slosberg who began brewing as a hobby back in 1979. At the time, Pete was really more interested in making wine, but the five-year fermentation process discouraged him. Over the next several years Pete became more passionate about beer, and in 1986, Pete’s Brewing Company was formed. His love of beer and taste for variety sparked a WICKED revival in brewing which has continued to flourish.

Pete’s marketing is almost legendary. I recently saw an interview with him where he said one of the company’s primary strategies was to have ultimate reverence for the product and irreverence for everything else.

This tongue-in-cheek attitude allowed him to create branding that built in notoriety. The cornerstone of his advertising was him – an almost cartoonish character that was committed to becoming world famous while poking fun at how not famous he was (at the time), and, oh yeah, he introduced the ultra different Wicked Ale beer that has now grown into one of the national leading brewers with distribution in all 50 states.

Pete’s out of the box marketing was a smashing hit and allowed Pete and his partners to cash out at a cool $70 million. Go Pete! To learn more about Pete’s branding philosophy, check out this great article.

In the world of marketing, many argue that if you can’t go all in, you might as well go home. These stories show how you can keep a focus, commit to it, and watch it grow. How can you add a twist to your marketing? I bet you have at least one opportunity that would rev up your marketing engine!

Do Something Different

January 15, 2008 | Leave a Comment

I know when I get into a funky place that I’ve been on autopilot for an extended length of time. Same breakfast, same lunch locales, same conversations, well, you know… the same ol’, same ol’. Even the people I know who thrive on consistency and schedules still enjoy a departure from time to time to jump start the heart.

With marketing, I believe we can get into a rut. We sign up for networking groups, we talk to the same referral partners, we set up sales and marketing systems so that everything goes off like clockwork, and while all of this is good, we still need to retain that certain special something that allows that twinkle in our eye to shine.

One thing you can do to add a little race to your pulse is to do something different. Something zany will do just fine. Something really out there might be even better. You choose the level of adventure that is right for you.

Here are some ‘different’ things that people did that pushed them out of their comfort zone and into results!

  1. Scott Stratten was a speaker who wanted to get more high-paying speaking gigs. He was following the usual protocol given by speaking experts when he landed on a ‘big idea.’ He launched his now infamous Time Movie and racked up a cool 250,000 subscribers to his e-newsletter. He also reached his goal of more speaking gigs, more product sales, and in the process launched a whole new company dedicated to helping others also launch successful movies.

  2. Kim Holstein dreamt of making pretzels. Not just ordinary pretzels, mind you, she wanted to ‘stuff’ them with all kinds of yummy ingredients. Feeding her ‘dream jar,’ she and Scott began making pretzels in their small Chicago apartment. They took them door to door selling them to local outlets. Before long, they rented space and opened their first pretzel bakery. The big break came when QVC included them on a Super Bowl promotion and they sold millions of pretzels in two hours! Try them!

  3. You’ve no doubt heard of Hooters – the mega chain restaurant that has made its way into our pop culture. But did you hear about how they launched onto the scene? Classic shoestring marketing put the first Hooters on the map. By all evidence, the original Hooters was a total dive. However, they attracted tons of press by asking the winner of a local bikini contest to wear one of their t-shirts and pose with the founder who was dressed up in a chicken costume! Not one to pass up a free advertising opportunity, one of the founders also swam out to an overturned boat and painted HOOTERS on the side. Several years later when the chain was at risk with the EEOC due to lack of male representation in its wait staff, the company’s owners marched on Capital Hill with their Hooter’s girls and fans in tow. Moral of the story: never underestimate the power of media.

  4. Standing out from the crowd, Woot.com takes everything that works in internet marketing (think scarcity, deadlines, and urgency) and drives it toward selling one item per day until it is sold out. This site is a phenomenon in and of itself – most items sell out before noon and are posted at midnight of each day. Quirky and not always the lower price, Woot could inspire you to depart from the masses.

Depart from the crowd and see how you stand out! Dare to do SOMETHING different today. Or not. You can start small (haircut, change the route you take to drive home) or big (like the stories above) or mix it up. If you aren’t feeling a little queasy (you are approaching the edge of that comfort zone at that point), then up the ante!

Want Capital? The Basics You Must Know

January 14, 2008 | Leave a Comment

When 14-year old Ashley Power unleashed her views on life on her Web site, “Goosehead,” who knew she would be a media sensation in a matter of months? Toiling away, night after night, the teen built what is now one of the hottest young adult sites on the Web with little money and no staff.

However, when the word got out, it soon was obvious to the teen’s parents it was time to invest and take the little Web site into the big time – and who knows, the same process may hold true for your own firm or company site. What if you don’t have a nest egg to fuel your entrepreneurial effort?

Basically, there are two types of capital: debt and equity. If you go the debt route, you secure a loan, maintain total control of your company, and must repay the loan plus interest and fees. Going the equity route provides capital and investors who trade an investment for a share of your company and, they hope, the associated profits or proceeds.

If your company requires a modest amount of capital, you may consider going the debt route by securing a bank loan, a Small Business Administration loan, personal loans from friends, family or partner (silent or not) that invest a large portion of the money required to get you where you want to go. Commercial finance companies also can provide financing. If, however, you are in an industry where a considerable amount of capital is required (such as high tech), you are better off going the equity capital route.

No matter who you make your pitch to, you will need:

  1. An Executive Summary – 3 to 5 pages
  2. A Business Plan – 50 pages maximum
  3. Due Diligence Material, including market studies, research papers, etc.
  4. Company Business Valuations and projections of post-investment values
  5. A strong, short presentation you can make in person

Venture capitalists (VCs) usually enter the game at around $250,000. Below that, you may want to look at angel investors: wealthy people who invest in a similar manner as VCs, but do it independently rather than with a firm. They are called “angels” because they usually are more interested in acting as a mentor rather than controlling your company.

VCs and angel investors look at your business plan and, if everything looks good, they will invest in your company. To ensure you look “good,” be sure you supply the answers to these questions in your materials:

  1. How much can the investor expect to make? What is the return on investment?
  2. How much could the investor lose? What collateral is available?
  3. How do you know your company will make money? Do you have third party documentation that can support your claims?
  4. Who is running the company? Why should they trust you and your team know what you are doing?
  5. Who’s going to buy your product or service? How will you market to your target? Does your plan have marketable validity?
  6. When will the investor be paid back? What is the deal structure and terms?

Seeking venture capital isn’t for the faint of heart. VCs typically receive about 100 plans per week and invest in about 5-10 businesses per year. But, you never know when your presentation or business plan may land in another investor’s hands as a result of your VC actions. Who you know is very important when seeking venture capital. Networking takes on a whole new role as you try to meet potential investors. Ask your business advisor, attorney, banker and other colleagues who they know in the VC world.

Your action list for securing capital should look something like this:

  1. Develop documents
  2. Create presentations – one short (5-10 minutes) and one long (15-20 minutes)
  3. Hone your presentation skills – try Toastmasters or personal coaching
  4. Rehearse your presentation – your family and friends are a good place to start
  5. Make your list of potential investors
  6. Talk to colleagues and add to your list of possible investors
  7. Remain focused and enthusiastic throughout the process – energy sells
  8. Do your homework and avoid risky investors
  9. Remember to sell your vision and the investment, not your service or product – What’s in it for the investor?
  10. Each week, make a to-do list and follow it until you secure the capital you desire

No matter what stage of growth your company is in, financing is available to those who are patient and persistent.

Five Ways to Increase Marketing Results in the Next 14 Days

January 13, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Want results, but feel like marketing is such a hassle? Here are five easy ways to prime the pump for more results – in as little as one hour!

  1. Take someone to lunch. You could take any someone to lunch, but why not multiply your effectiveness by taking one of your top referral sources to lunch? Look for ways to refer back to that person and think about how you can do more business together. Is there a co-partner seminar in your future or a shared mailout?
  2. Dig out old leads. Oh you know where they are. They are around here somewhere, right? Dig those out and start a new conversation. Don’t treat old leads like an old book – open a new chapter and start from there!
  3. Plant new seeds. Take a look at the last few proposals you lost. Call those contacts and ask what happened and see how they are doing. Instead of saying, help me figure out why I lost the sale, start from a place of, How could I have served you better in this process? What did I miss that would have helped? This is a place where very few people sow new seeds – and it’s very fertile ground!
  4. Assess your standards. Are your standards slipping a bit? Does your team need a sweet kick in the booty to play at the A-game level? Don’t delay. Take 15 (maybe 30) and have a focused talk about what your mission and standards are. Then begin living them again.
  5. Face fear. Focus on that ‘dream’ client with all your might. Ask a few friends to connect you with someone, call the company direct, think of a creative way to get in front of them, whatever your strategy face your fear knowing that you will get 100 percent of the clients you never go after.

Make marketing happen today and sales are sure to follow!

Unleashing Creativity and Innovation

January 12, 2008 | Leave a Comment

What’s the next great idea?

Who would have dreamed that putting water in a bottle and selling it for $1 would amount to a billion dollar hill of beans?

You get the drift … but how do you put yourself and other workers in a creative mode to even think of a great idea? How do you motivate your staff to remain cutting-edge in their thinking, when all they want to do is complete the next project, close a new deal and go home at the end of the day?

Unleashing creativity and innovation doesn’t happen overnight, but you can begin by thinking differently about the way you and your organization invest time, effort and resources into the creative process. It’s a proven fact that the best workplace inventions and ideas throughout history weren’t accidental at all, although we’re conditioned to believe they were because it’s so much more “glamorous” and exciting to actually believe Michael Dell became a millionaire overnight. It actually took him quite a bit of time building and selling computers out of his dorm room to even scratch the surface.

While it may be true that penicillin was discovered through a strange case of mold, finding your next big idea doesn’t have to be a surprise, and the time you invest in this activity should be considered golden. It’s a fact that successfully innovative companies are more likely to generate growth rates of 20 percent or more than less innovative ones, and companies that generate 80 percent of their revenue from new products consistently double their market capitalization within five years.

Organizations that rely only on their leaders will find themselves terribly uncreative, because this approach sends innovation to the fringes of a company. It presumes that the organization is, by nature, dull and slow, and that innovation can only be spurred on by a handful of creative types whose official job is to be innovative. As a result, this squelches most workers’ ideas because they don’t see it as their role to drive innovation.

In addition, many people believe creativity can only be driven by the company oddball or eccentric who may be “hip” and “happening.” Think of the cool cats who sip lattes and think of great ideas all day long. Think again! Certainly, organizations should not discourage this from occurring, but creativity isn’t the process of thinking of a great idea by sitting under the Juniper tree. It’s a process of planning.

How do you accomplish the creative process? Here are some tried-and-true methods that have spawned more than one great idea.

Notice Everyone – Innovation is all around you, and usually begins from the bottom-up. In your own company or organization, the mailroom guy and the low-rung administrative assistant may be the most creative people on staff, and yet, you have no notion they have an inclination to think of anything outside the norm. Ask them for feedback and advice. Put them on creative teams and tell them you appreciate their efforts. Emphasize that this is more than the company’s suggestion box; you’re looking for more creative ways to accomplish your goals and drive performance.

Go for the Biggest Obstacle First – It might be easy to concentrate on more creative ways to provide, for example, continuing education to your staff, but you’re more likely to achieve bottom-line results by tackling something bigger and more immense – like the sales process. If the largest problem is finding staff who can “close the deal,” then you’ve got to concentrate on coming up with solutions to tackle the issue head-on.

Create a Business Case – When the challenge is identified, you need to devise various ways to solve it, and the natural inclination is to brainstorm and use problem-solving methods. If you work in teams, bring them together. After the team agrees on a viable solution, the next step is to create a hypothetical (yet in actuality, it could be real) business case to support new recommendations. This quickly illustrates whether the creative idea might work. Once you’ve tested and modified the proposed solution, if it seems to work, then present a formal proposal to the organization’s leaders.

Remember that creativity and innovative thinking shouldn’t be done in a vacuum; it should involve everyone in your organization, and although it might seem far-fetched, every idea should be considered for its worth.

World-class companies innovate every day in some way or another. Highlight innovations other companies have enjoyed.

Customer Service Doesn’t Cut It Anymore

January 11, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Conventional wisdom says an organization must have satisfied customers if it is to survive. But today, organizations are realizing that satisfying customers may not be enough. Recent studies indicate that satisfied customers are not necessarily LOYAL customers and even though customers say they are satisfied, they may still defect to a competitor.

Many organizations use a 1-5 rating system to measure customer satisfaction with 5 indicating the highest level of satisfaction. In most cases, organizations are content with a score of 3 (“satisfied”).

But according to a study reported in the Harvard Business Review, a 3 rating indicates that the customer is “satisfied,” but not necessarily “loyal.” The article reported that a score from 3.5 to 4.5 indicates that customers are indifferent. Only a score of 4.6 or above indicates a truly loyal customer.

So how does an organization achieve customer loyalty? Is it simply a matter of answering a customer call on the first ring? Offering high speed Internet access in every meeting room? Seating only 8 instead of 10 at function tables? Not exactly.

Achieving customer loyalty is an ongoing process, not a single action. An organization must understand what customers want and provide it, because, in the end, the only perspective that matters is the customer’s.

So what do customers want?
The Institute has studied the issue and found that customer expectations generally fall into the five dimensions outlined in the SERVQUAL model (according to Parasuraman, A., Zeithaml, V.A., and Berry, L.L. (1988). SERVQUAL: A Multiple Item Scale for Measuring Consumer Perceptions of Service Quality. Journal of Retailing, 64 (Spring): 12-37): Tangibles; Reliability; Responsiveness; Assurance, and Empathy.

Tangibles are the physical aspects of a service experience such as the appearance of the facility and staff, as well as items like communication materials. In short, this is the image that an organization projects. In the hospitality industry, for example, the facility and the staff must be neat, clean and organized in order for the customer experience to be satisfactory. To engender loyalty, however, that physical image must exceed the customer’s expectation. Some organizations take steps to create not just a certain physical appearance, but tangible ambiance– selecting a soothing color scheme, installing plush carpets and comfortable furniture. Westin’s concept of a “Heavenly Bed” is a prime example of an organization that is working to inspire customer loyalty using the tangible aspects of service quality.

Reliability means performing the promised service dependably and accurately, keeping promises, and doing it right the first time. In the hospitality industry, this can be as simple as honoring the fees quoted for a service and ensuring that the service provided is the service that the customer expects. Are you taking steps to ensure that there are no interruptions in service delivery? Is there a well-staffed reception desk, an informative website, an efficient toll-free number or strategically located information kiosks? When guests need directions or have a question, do they know where to go for an answer? If a first-time guest walked into your facility, would they be able to find their way to their destination? Is directional signage clear and easy to spot? Are employees easy to identify and prepared to answer most guest questions?

Responsiveness refers to the timeliness of service and the willingness to help. The loyalty factor is engaged when an organization responds to a customer’s need before he or she even realizes that a need exists, or when an organization goes above and beyond the call of duty in responding to a request.

Several years ago, the Institute held its annual conference at a popular resort in South Florida. Upon our arrival, we realized that we had not shipped any nametag holders for the conference. We asked our contact at the hotel to provide directions to the nearest office supply store. Instead of sending us on our way, she offered to go herself to pick up whatever we needed so we could continue with our conference preparations. She returned from the store with a variety of nametag holders for us to make a selection. We were so impressed with her initiative and responsiveness that we rewarded her service by returning to the resort for our next four events. That small investment of her time was returned with thousands of dollars in revenue for the hotel.

Assurance is the knowledge, courtesy, and professionalism that build a customer’s trust. Ensuring that representatives are knowledgeable requires that an organization invest in effective training initiatives. They must be targeted and ongoing. But training alone will not guarantee knowledgeable representatives. Hiring right, paying appropriately, coaching effectively, measuring accurately and rewarding often are critical success factors for developing knowledgeable representatives who can resolve most issues on the spot.

Empathy is the caring, individualized service that makes a customer feel valued. Loyal customers are made when an organization remembers their names and their likes and dislikes. The Ritz-Carlton, for example, has earned numerous customer service awards by creating individual guest profiles and offering personalized services; from remembering a guest’s preference in pillows to making certain that their favorite newspaper is delivered daily.

To ensure that these five dimensions of service quality are integrated into your day-to-day operations requires a commitment from management. Exceptional customer service must be incorporated as a primary business goal and a core value of an organization and must be reflected in its policies and procedures. A constant process of performance evaluation is also necessary to ensure that the organization remains customer-focused.

Any organization that understands what its customers want, and then provides it, will be on a fast track to achieving customer loyalty.

Marketing on a Shoestring

January 10, 2008 | Leave a Comment

When a spiraling economy pinches marketing budgets, it means marketing money goes away. It doesn’t mean the need for marketing goes away. In fact, you may need to market even more.

Luckily, marketing — and that includes public relations — doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Keep in mind that what you don’t spend in dollars and cents, you’ll have to make up in energy, time and creativity. Simply put, you can make up for a small budget by rolling up your sleeves and putting your noggin to work.

So what does it take to earn free press? It’s pretty simple, actually. Become newsworthy. Sounds too easy, right? It often is, and the fact that you aren’t a PR person is a plus for you. The first thing you have to do is think like a reporter. For a moment, take off your owner/manager hat and put on a reporter hat. The reporter is looking for a scoop — a hot story. She/he’s going to look good to the editor when she/he comes up with something that no one else is doing, right? This is your opportunity to be a reporter’s resource.

Basically, you want to help the reporter do his/her job. You want to be on the lookout for stories that will help the reporter get the scoop. The stories may be from inside your company, but they could also be inside your clients’ companies or they may even be inside a prospect’s company. While getting PR for a client or a prospect may not sound like a direct route to getting attention for your firm, it is.

By offering information that is not self-serving, you earn reporters’ trust. The best reporters have incredible memories. They work on tight deadlines and when they need a quote from a subcontractor about an issue, guess who they most likely will call first? You are developing a relationship with the reporter as a valued news source. Keep in mind that reporters are bombarded by PR people and others who want to selfishly exploit the press. You want to set yourself apart from those types. You want to appear as unbiased as possible and stick to the facts.

For example, if you are working on a project that is different, unusual, important to the community, or any of a handful of reasons why something is newsworthy, call the reporter that covers that beat and tell him/her about it. Then wait for him/her to ask for more information. That’s the difference. You are looking out for him/her not for yourself. Reporters know people and if you come at them with any other intention than that which is honest, they’ll run in the other direction.

So, what could be news? A store opening? Well, yes. It is especially if the store is an oxygen bar (something different) or if the store is filling a critical need in the community or if the store caters to a sector of the community that is part of a trend. An Albertson’s opening in the suburbs where there are plenty of grocery stores is not news. A Fiesta grocery store opening in a part of town that doesn’t have any grocery stores and that caters to the booming Latino population is newsworthy. See the difference?

The other thing you want to remember about working with reporters is that they are busy. When you call, get to the point. You should practice what you are going to say so you can sum it up in about 30 seconds. Before saying anything, ask if it is a good time. If they are on deadline, they will tell you. When you hand off the idea, your job is done unless they need more information. Trust me; they will contact you if they are interested. If they aren’t, don’t bug them. The last thing they need is someone following up asking if they are going to cover the story. In the end, it’s what they think is interesting that matters. If you study newspapers, soon you will be able to discern what is news and what isn’t. You may think that your new service offering is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but will the paper’s readers? Scrutinize your idea before you let the reporter take a crack at it.

The way you share your idea with a reporter is critical. Do the homework. Share why you think it’s important; don’t assume the reporter will come to the same conclusion. If you go to a reporter and simply tell him/her about what your company is doing, she/he may not think of it as news. However, if you explain how this new service is part of a trend or an answer to a pressing business issue, the reporter can then see that this is a hot topic affecting a lot more companies than just yours. All of a sudden, you are newsworthy!

So, think like a reporter. Learn how the newspaper works. Request editorial calendars. And start developing relationships with reporters. “How?” you may ask. Well, it’s as simple as making a phone call or sending an e-mail. No magic. It’s just plain ol’ relationship building. It takes action. Don’t be afraid. The fact that you aren’t sure what to do helps you be honest. Simply tell them that you aren’t sure what the correct methods are, but you think you could be helpful to them. Reporters have told me that they truly appreciate being able to trust a person’s intentions.

Don’t forget to take part in press “freebies.” Is a new person joining your company? Did your company recently promote a person? Won a new contract? Send a press release to the local business paper. If you have new team members, announce it by sending one to the local newspaper as well. For personnel changes, try to include a picture.

If you develop your reporter contacts, you will be able to see your company name in print more often than you ever dreamed. Most companies spend $2,000 – $5,000 per month to have a PR company on retainer. If you spend a small amount of your time, you will be able to accomplish similar coverage for a lot less than that!

Develop a Marketing Plan That Works

January 9, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Does your company have a marketing plan and do you know where it is? If your marketing plan is sitting on a shelf, if you aren’t getting the new business results you want, or if you have a plan and don’t know what to do with it – read on. A well-developed marketing plan can help the “good times roll” in these not-so-good times.

What a Marketing Plan Is

A well-defined marketing plan is your company’s road map to results. It will guide you from your current situation to your target destination. It should be a document that is used and revised as needed (no one says you have to live and die by what you decide to do today). You can develop an effective marketing plan by following a tried-and-true series of steps.

What a Marketing Plan Is Not

A marketing plan isn’t some fancy, intelligently written (although it should be clearly communicated) 100-page document that “wows” people. It isn’t a document that will take months to create, and isn’t going to take the latest and greatest desktop publishing software to create. A marketing plan that works isn’t something that only the marketing director or VP understands.

Where are you now?

  • Define who you are as a company.
  • What is your company’s business philosophy or approach to business?
  • What are your company’s competitive strengths and weaknesses?
  • What differentiates you from your competitors? Knowing your key differentiation is integral to developing your marketing message.

Use these guidelines to write several paragraphs that summarize where your business is now. Be sure to determine if this is how “outsiders” see your company. Ask a few vendors, customers or business referral sources to give objective feedback on your company’s reputation. It’s important to know if you think you are the “tiger” of your industry and your target market sees you as a “sheep.”

Where do you want to go?

  • What do you want to accomplish? (Increase new lines of business? Expand existing business? Both?)
  • Do you have name recognition in your market? If not, do you want to build that?
  • Do you know to whom you want to market? Do you want to target a new market?

As Microsoft says, “Where do you want to go today?” A fun part of the marketing plan process is opening your mind to limitless possibilities. Working in your business instead of on your business works well for tunnel vision – not marketing. Thinking about the future will get you back in touch with what you “dreamed” your company could be many years ago. Or, it may open up new dreams.

As you proceed through this phase of plan development, outline your goals and be very specific. To hit a target, you need to know exactly what you are aiming at. It’s nice to say you want to be the most well-known company in your city, but a more specific goal could be for you to be the most well-known company to your target market and increase sales by x percent in the coming year. And while you should dream big, it’s good to be realistic – the best marketing plan in the world won’t double new business in one year. Finally, once you have your goals on paper, it’s time to prioritize them. Put them in order starting with those with the greatest importance.

Research, Research, Research

Research may not be your cup o’ tea, but it’s critical to the success of your marketing plan. Once you have your targets on paper, you can focus your research to find out if another company is already the market leader in that arena, or test your company differentiation against other local offerings. You may decide that you would rather tackle another area in which competitors don’t already have such a strong foothold.

You also need to understand your target. What do they want? What do they value? A good place to start is American Demographics Magazine (www.americandemographics.com). The magazine’s Web site offers articles on various consumer and business market segments. Associations and publications catering to your target market can be useful, too. Web sites for those sources also are readily available. It never hurts to enlist the assistance of a pro. Often, the investment more than pays for itself in time savings.

Profile your target market with the information you gather. Include the percentage of people in your town that would fall into your “target” market. What is your target’s need for the services you offer? Do they appreciate the services you offer? Where do they currently go to buy these services? How easy/difficult will it be to lure them over to your company? The more specific your profiles are, the more they will help you hit your target.

Hitting Your Target

This is the most important part of your marketing plan! For each goal, you need to develop a strategy that incorporates your key messages and outlines the tactics you need to accomplish to reach your goal.

There are many tools for you to use to convey your message, including:

  • Newspaper
  • TV
  • Magazines
  • Direct Marketing
  • Campaigns
  • Newsletters
  • Public Relations – events, speaking engagements, sponsorships
  • Business Alliances

For each goal, write your strategy with the key message and the tactics you will take to realize your goal.

Here’s a sample:

Strategy: Position Bob’s Widget Company as the unique provider of low-priced, high-quality widgets in Any City, USA.

Key Messages: Bob’s Widget Company offers low-priced, high-quality widgets and is committed to serving the citizens of Any City, USA.

Tactics: Propose a story to the local business journal that shows how Any City, USA’s citizens now have access to the most affordable widgets in America. Attend trade shows where you can meet retailers who serve your target market. If Bob wanted to take his widgets straight to his target market, he also might consider developing a direct mail campaign.

As you outline each goal, make sure you keep asking yourself, “Why should I do this?” Also, be realistic. If you don’t have a lot of money to pour into marketing, it doesn’t make sense to list tactics that require a large budget. Marketing doesn’t have to cost a lot of money if you are willing to invest time and creativity to achieve your objectives.

Once you have all your goals broken down into smaller sub-goals, set a deadline for each sub-goal and a timeline for the larger goal. You want your marketing plan to be a win for you – set practical time deadlines.

Let’s GO!

Guess what? That’s it!  You now have your marketing “map,” a well-developed “to do” list that was researched and is highly focused to get the results you want. It is based on facts, not hunches, and it will take you from point A to point B. More than that, it will continue to move you closer to meeting your company goals.

As you complete each goal/sub-goal, be sure to document the results you realized. Use this analysis to tweak and improve your marketing process. We think you will be amazed at what you can do in just three months if you take your marketing effort one goal at a time.

Where Will Your Business be in Five Years

January 7, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Most everyone working in any type of business hardly has time to set goals and objectives, let alone do any short-term daily planning. Walking into the office with a preset list of daily “to-do” items will surely go to the bottom of the in-box within a matter of minutes. And, in the long-term, matching quantifiable outcomes with goals and objectives just isn’t part of reality. Or is it?

An increasingly demanding marketplace coupled with the need to get more done prevents some from planning, setting business goals and measuring outcome. Yet other business owners make time for this critical process. These entrepreneurs have experienced, firsthand, how applied business projections can turn dreams into currency.

The need to plan for the future of your business dates back to the Stone Age. As elementary as it may seem, cave men who hunted for food found they could not transport much on their backs or in their hands, so they planned for the future by inventing the wheel. Once a vehicle to carry food was available, the goal was achieved, and life was much sweeter.

Our business environment isn’t much different. We realize an end result through a goal- and objective-setting process. For example, your goal might be to increase business in 2008 by 10 percent. How are you going to get there? What’s keeping you from reaching that mark now? Asking the right questions generates the critical information you need to turn action into results. Even more important is accessing the data needed to set your goals. If you’ve never attempted this kind of planning before, you aren’t alone. Properly executed, this type of planning can significantly impact a business, but most entrepreneurs aren’t sure what to focus on, so they focus on what is urgent. Often, though, what is urgent is not a priority in the lifespan of your business.

It’s much easier to begin the process by thinking of the task in small, easily reachable segments. Following a streamlined, eight-step approach to planning keeps you focused. Even though you may already have taken on some of these points and begun the planning process, revisit them for a fresh perspective.

1. Make sure you are looking at the right numbers. If you are looking at financial statements, you may be looking at what we call lagging indicators. These numbers tell you what has already passed. What transforms action into measurable results is setting goals based on leading indicators – specific measures that give you a real-time snapshot of areas within your business. This gives you the power to make changes now rather than later. Often, what seems to be the area of concern is actually a symptomatic sign of another area that needs attention.

2. Assess the company’s strengths and weaknesses. Even the most advanced, revenue-generating businesses can benefit from assessing strengths and weaknesses. Gather your teams and create! First, you’ll quickly realize you have as many weaknesses as you have strengths. Second, if the group is given creative freedom without pressures of being watched by the boss, you’ll receive honest feedback.

3. Conduct a thorough market segment analysis. Who are you trying to reach? The same customer or client you had just a few years ago may have morphed into someone completely different. Perhaps you’re going after an audience that no longer has a need for your services. Consider generational differences (Gen-X, Baby Boomers), demographics (age, race, gender) and any other indicators that match your company’s mission.

4. Analyze competitors. You can’t begin to make any headway without determining your competition. The answers “we don’t have any” and “we are the only ones who provide this niche of services” isn’t viable. Everyone has competitors; yet, they may not be apparent at first glance. If you can’t come up with a short list, talk to your customers or clients and ask their opinions. Chances are they’ll tell you who the competition is, but more importantly, they’ll tell you why you’re different than the competition.

5. Create company goals and objectives. This task may very well be the most fun, but again, be careful not to be too aggressive with your goals and objectives. It’s far better to concentrate on two to three specific items that can be accomplished, rather than a long, complicated list that sets the company up for failure. Of course, setting simple goals that don’t challenge your team won’t yield the results you truly desire.

6. Formulate strategic options and select the appropriate strategies. What are your options on reaching your goals and objectives? How are you going to organize your teams to accomplish your end result? Weigh factors like budget, people and staff time when planning your strategies. If you plan for 10 percent growth, what are your options – do you have the staff, money and time to reach this goal?

7. Translate strategic plans into action plans. This is the most creative step in the entire process because of the progression involved in coming up with action plans. The most productive meetings with the best outcomes come from dynamic, group sessions in which everyone offers their suggestions. Most companies are amazed at the creative knowledge inherent within employees during this stage.

8. Establish accurate controls. As in any business, controlling expenses and resources is paramount to any process. You can’t sell the farm if the farm isn’t for sale! Be sure to outline during the action plan stage just exactly how much the company is willing to commit to the effort, and attempt to stick to that whenever possible. Of course, there will be some deviation, but more likely than not, a well-defined set of controls will go a long way to ensuring goals are met in a timely, cost-effective and efficient fashion.

In addition to these eight steps, companies must evaluate the effectiveness of its plans throughout the process. Assessments must be reviewed and thoroughly analyzed to determine what’s working and what needs to be changed. You won’t want to wait a whole year, for example, to rethink your goals. Plan a mid-year review.

In five years, where do you want to be? What does your company look like? Put the incremental plan in place that will get you there and stick with it until you reach your destination.

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