I travel a fair amount for business. Once, on a connecting flight from LA to PHX I sat behind a young man who had just finished a week at a bull riding school. Tall and rail-thin, he stood out in the crowd of business travelers with his crisp white t-shirt and black hat. With a thick southern drawl, I listened as he started to tell his seatmate about bull riding and his aspiration to make it big.
When you’re a small business, the world of self-promotion can seem overwhelming and confusing. But the secret to taking your marketing from boring to brilliant is surprisingly simple—and can be found within the phrase itself: Self. Promotion.
With very few exceptions, I don’t work for publicly traded companies. Or companies held by venture capital firms. Or companies built to flip.
That means most large corporations, including the Fortune 500 and most high-tech darlings, are off my radar.
Why would I do that? Those companies have the largest budgets. They often have high aesthetic, and they understand the need for effective marketing and communications.
Because with very few exceptions, nearly all of them are slowly killing their brands and nothing marketers can do will change that.
You know not everyone is an ideal client. In fact, the wrong client can be downright bad for business. They cost money, drain morale and worse yet – may refer you to other prospects just like them!
When sales are difficult I always ask my client, is it the price or the value the customer is objecting to?
Of course, it’s never one or the other. The two are intimately linked. If the value is great enough, the price feels appropriate. The higher the price, the greater the perceived value needs to be.
Perceived value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and the only way to learn that is to talk to your customer and prospects. What gives them joy and gets them excited? How can you make their lives better? How can you alleviate some of their pain? The answer is rarely as simple as offering a lower price. (Which is why the competition can sell at a higher price, and still kick your butt.)
Truly get to know your customers and prospects and look for ways to align what you offer with what they say they really need and want. The closer you come—and the better you are at communicating that—the higher the price they’ll be willing to pay.
I always say, “You never know what business you’re in until the customer tells you.”
I know so many companies for whom customer feedback has led to major changes in their strategic direction. Changes have included new or additional products and services, and markets or audiences served. In fact, I have seen customer insights completely turn a struggling company around. Customer feedback can point out ways to provide deeper value and greater differentiation against the competition—both highly advantageous to revenue growth.
So if this feedback is so valuable, why don’t more companies seek it out? Many think they do. They think their post-sale surveys and customer service on Twitter are enough. But they aren’t.
Truly valuable feedback only comes from talking with your customer. Techniques such as one-on-one interviews, round table discussions, and in-home visits yield rich feedback.
At Cooper Smith & Company, we advocate the method taught in the University of Iowa’s Venture School where they require that all candidates in the program talk to 100 customers. No, that’s not accurate. What they have to do is LISTEN to the customers.
Using the techniques outlined in Talking to Humans by Giff Constable, they interview, observe and record the feedback. They can’t talk about their own business, or their product or their next big ideas. In time, patterns emerge as interviewees say things like, “what I’d really like is…,” and “if you could solve X for me, I’d buy it today.”
Insight results in products and services customers are practically leaping across the table to buy. The value proposition is clear, and the sales are easy.
If you’re not having deep conversations with your customers, get a copy of Mr. Constable’s book and set a goal to do interviews this year. I’m confident you’ll learn something interesting.
It’s good news and bad for every business founder: your business has grown. Dramatically.
Following this news may be the realization that you’re no longer the best person to run the business anymore. It’s bittersweet, but exciting. Like the student whose skill has excelled beyond their teacher’s, your business is ready for a new mentor.
You now have the chance to create something even better, bigger — if you can get out of your own way and put it in the right hands.
When transition time comes, don’t just look for another “you.” Take yourself — your roles, skills and attributes — apart and look for candidates with those strengths. You may not find them all in one person. In fact, it may take multiple people to replace you. That’s OK. Plan to develop a C-suite, not just a CEO, and you’ll build a team that can go farther, faster than you ever could alone.
Find leaders you trust, and when it’s time to pass the baton, consider passing to a whole relay team, not just the next person in line.
Recurring income is a holy grail for business owners. Who doesn’t want to sell something people buy over and over, (with little to no additional work for you!)
But if your business model is built chasing one-time or big-ticket sales, adding a reoccurring income stream may seem out-of-reach. Get your team together (or enlist your creative agency’s help) to brainstorm supplemental products or services your company could offer after the sale. For instance, can you deliver valuable service or maintenance reminders (for services you sell or manage) via email, SMS or an app? Can you offer add-ons or upgrades that would improve or update your product after a time? Can you create personalization or customization opportunities?
Think outside the box! Study unrelated industries to see how they incorporate reoccurring income into their business models. With a little creative thinking, some of their concepts might translate to you.
In a world of Siri and Alexa it’s no surprise that the virtual assistant field is booming. Companies like Upwork and HireMyMom.com allow you to contract individuals to work remotely. These individuals are typically self-employed independent contractors who work from home, and have backgrounds in anything from professional administration to technical or creative fields. Assistants communicate with clients primarily via email, but Skype, phone calls, or Google Voice calls are also standard. Work is arranged on a contractual basis.
Deciding which tasks to delegate can be tough, especially when you’re just building a relationship (and trust!) with your new virtual assistant. Here are some ideas for tasks you can easily outsource:
- Scheduling – Digital tools make it easy for a virtual assistant to handle your schedule remotely.
- Bookkeeping – Your assistant can follow up on outstanding invoices or unpaid bills.
- Data Entry – Hire an assistant to enter sales lead contact information or project report data.
- Proofing – Even if you’re a strong writer, get peace of mind by having your publication professionally proofed.
- Research – A virtual assistant can conduct leads research, or report on industry or market trends.
- Travel Coordination – Find the best deals and accommodations with the help of an expert.
Hire someone for a few hours or a few months. It’s up to you. The key is, you don’t have to — indeed, shouldn’t — try to do everything yourself. Chances are your time is better spent following up with prospects than it is typing in those email addresses after your last trade show.
So don’t do what you can hire someone else to do, especially when it’s so easy to hire someone remote.
A lot of business owners say they want our marketing expertise because they need “more business.”
The fact is, often they can’t handle more business.
As a rule, marketing brings leads, not sales. Someone is going to need to qualify and close those leads. If you don’t have manpower to follow-up quickly, those prospects will grow cold or worse yet, buy elsewhere. (Then your competitors will send you thank you notes for spending on marketing that builds their business.)
If you have sales in place but customer service or fulfillment is lacking you risk creating a disgruntled customer and losing any future revenue their repeat business might bring.
Do yourself a favor. Hire first. Build your operations into a fine-tuned machine. Then launch your fierce marketing efforts. Your leads will convert more quickly, and customers will be happier—and THAT will bring more business.