Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Three random pieces of marketing advice.

1) Bring paper and a pen to every prospect meeting. Heck, bring one to every internal meeting as well. No, you can't remember everything important that was said or all the dates that were thrown out. But that's only one side of the value. Taking notes makes other people think you care.
2) Call people by the names they call themselves. If they introduce themself as "Robert" then they are "Robert", not "Bob" or "Rob." There is a reason they said, "Hi, I'm Robert" and not "Hi, I'm Rob." It's what they want you to call them. If you are unsure, ask. Do not assume "Rob" is their nickname or, even if it is, that you get to use it.
3) Ask questions and then shut up and listen to the answer. It's amazing to me how many people ask questions, often good ones, and then quickly supply a possible answer. Sometimes long, involved answers that have the sole purpose of letting you know how smart they are. Really, you are just being a crashing bore. Smart people listen.

I'll leave you with a quote I saw on Quotivate (a fun LinkedIn group): "Knowledge talks, wisdom listens." -Anonymous

Sunday, August 15, 2010

10 ways to make sure you do NOT monetize your network.

A popular saying: Your network is your net worth.

This is why so many marketing advisors counsel on how to build a network. Some even teach you how to monetize it, which is the hard part (and why so many advisors focus only on the first, easier half.)

But I have yet to see anyone explain how to make sure you do NOT monetize your network. And yet so many people are accidental experts at this.

After studying some of the best (whose names will never be mentioned), I figured it'd be a good time to list out their top ten "skills."

1) Ignore other people's knowledge of the person you are meeting. Just because they know a lot about this person and why they might be valuable to you, they're not worth the 5-10 minutes to learn any of this.
2) Make sure not to thank referrers. Or even let them know you met their referral. Why should they need to know you actually met? Best to leave them guessing. And why should they care if it went well or was a near miss? So they can better tailor their next referral? Pah! Who needs that type of precision?
3) Broken funnel? Keep pouring them in! Your network is like a meat grinder. The more meat you jam into it the better. Never look at what comes out the other side. Ick. Right?
4) The latest networking tools are always the best. Networking is a technology race. Linked In? Maxed that one at 500. Twitter? That's so 2009. Foursquare? Been there, mayored that. Groupon? Time to move on. Whoever gets there first wins, right? If your network can't keep up, that's their problem.
5) Everything you do is noteworthy. Had lunch at a nice place? Tweet it! Tired of the heat? Post it on LinkedIn. Saw some funny shoes? Send out a link to the pic. They voted Jose off SYTYCD and he was your fave? Everyone needs to know. They hang on your every word.
6) LOL typos. OMG. poeple r to anal about typoos. Its 2010 and proofngg is 4 people with to much time. They kno u r busy and cant stop to proof your posts. They know if you they refer you business, youll b moar carful
7) The busier the better. Make sure you let people know how busy you are and how impossible it is to reach you. Busy = success. Simple fact.
8) Measure by number.* The more people in your network the better. The more retweets and pageviews, the higher your score. Breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings? You still have time for a couple coffees. Pipelines and relationship maps are for people with small networks, not for networking pros like you. And make sure you let everyone know, at every chance, how many others have fallen into your net.
9) Networking is a one-way street. ...and you are the princess in the castle at the end of the cul-de-sac. In fact, you take this to the next level. You make sure they know that you do not actually read anything they post. "If you want to reach me, send me an e-mail. I do not have time to read tweets." (Actual tweet.) Networking is not a conversation; it's a lecture. From you (the expert) to them (the fawning pupil who basks in the glory of being connected to you.)
10) Networking is synonymous to selling. You are the master of turning every coffee into a proposal meeting. Every breakfast into a presentation. They've finished their food and you haven't yet taken a bite. That's proof you are putting the time to better use. Now, mouth full, time to go for the close. You rock.

OK, I stopped at 10. I'm sure you can add more.

*I have to be serious for a minute. There are so many tools that measure the reach of your networking efforts, but so few that measure the impact in terms of revenue. If you provide professional services or work at a small company, you can (and should) do this by hand. If you work at a large company, take a random sampling. List out the networking platforms used by your clients (those that pay you actual money) and successful referral sources (those that connected you to people who pay you actual money). Then put a check mark if you can prove that they used this to become clients (or learn about additional product/service offerings) or successfully refer you to someone who became a client. More simply put: Make a list of networking efforts that your current targets are also using. When I did this for myself and for a couple other people, the results were decisive. In short: Keep panning where you are finding gold.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Why You Should Never Lose on Price. And How to Make Me Right.

AYSO Region 423's Referee Administrator counsels new soccer refs with the following advice: "If you never call a hand ball, you will be right 95% of the time."

With that in mind, I'll start this blog post by saying that you should NEVER lose a new business pitch on price. If you think you did, you are fooling yourself. If the prospect says you did, then they are lying (though maybe for good reason. Call it a white lie.)

In my role, I have access to reviewing many lost proposals and access to many others who also have access to reviewing lots of lost proposals. When we are told that "we lost on price" and contact that lost prospect, we almost always get a different reason. I have yet to hear a CMO contradict this statement.

Then why did the prospect say it was price? This is the business equivalent of "It's not you; it's me." I'm no relationship expert, but I can tell you this: When you hear this phrase, it IS you.

OK, then, how do you not lose on price?

1) Ask about price. Ask what % of the decision will be based on price. This should not be your first question, of course. But if they are creating a weighted XLS, ask what % each attribute will be weighted. If they are not creating an XLS, then ask how they will compare bids and what will be the key determining factor(s).
2) Ask about competition. Are you competing against low-cost providers? Are you competing against hungry competitors who are low-balling currently? Or are the other competitors selling on value, too?
3) Ask about the other buying factors. How important are these? "If we are, perhaps, a little higher on price, but we can show you that we knock the ball out of the park when it comes to __________, will we win this?" Watch them carefully when you ask this question.
4) Ask them why are they bidding the project out. Was (is) there an incumbent? How did they find your name? Often you can find out the price question here. If they are leaving due to lack of service, you should be good. If they are leaving since they feel they are being overcharged for "a commodity," your red flag should go up.
5) Do your research on the prospect. Do they tend to buy from low-cost providers? Contact their other suppliers and ask what they care about. Ask if they pay their bills on time or argue over every nickel and dime. What you are hunting for here is not price, it's value factors. What does this prospect value most?
6) Ask them who is making the final decision. Is this a buyer who cares only about cost? Unlikely. While a CFO (for example) might care more about cost than the end-user, if she/he bought only on price, then the company would no longer be in business. Sure, when provided with 3 like options, the CFO might gravitate to price, but if you cannot show that you are not a like option, then you deserve to lose, regardless of price.
7) Deliver the proposal in person. My #1 pet peeve. If you e-mailed the proposal, you did not lose on price. You lost on customer service. You also lost an opportunity to be there when they saw the price. If their eyes became pie plates, then you would have a chance to see why they were expecting a lower price. Perhaps you added a lot of features/services that they didn't want or need? Who knows? (Answer: not you.) Here I advise people to set the proposal delivery meeting during the scope meeting. If they refuse to set a date or say, "Just e-mail it over and we'll call you." then you know they do not value customer service ... or are looking for a stalking horse. If prospects won't set a date for discussing the proposal, then you should reconsider sending them one. See Yogi Berra quote below.

So you asked and...

They wouldn't tell you. Did they tell you about other attributes they value? Are their other suppliers delivering value vs. cost? Research around it.

Price is their #1 concern. Ask yourself: Is your company's differentiator one of price? Or do you want to have a short-term, unprofitable relationship for alternative reasons? If so, full speed ahead. You've met a good match. If not, then, run. Sure, I've gamed my NEVER here, but if you can't compete, don't. Why create a proposal when you know you will lose? As Yogi Berra said, "Swing at the strikes."

Whenever possible (and I know in many cases you cannot), take a lesson from car dealerships and tell them the price up front … before the pitch. It's the first place they'll look anyway, so why not peel off the bandaid? Then you can spend the rest of the time piling on value until the price is overcome. We're 2% higher than the other bid? Fine, I'm going to show you 5% more value. Only 2%? Usually we're higher than that. Then explain why.

I tell prospects that if they get five bids, we'll probably be the second highest. That is, at the top of the three palatable bids. Or, if I know they are top-feeding, I let them know we'll be in the middle. "You are considering some solid firms, we'll be right in the middle of that pack price-wise." And then I pause to see their reaction. At least now they know not to expect us to be the low-cost option and we can focus on value.

In short, if you are proposing and do not know how much the prospect cares about price, then you need to do a better job with your pre-proposal efforts. Or you'll deserve to lose. And, when you do, they will say it was price. And you will believe them.

Note: Only once in the past 2 years have I come to the conclusion that the buyer did, in fact, buy solely on price. I saw the buyer's weighted spreadsheet and price was 60% of the score. Fair enough... but the winning bidder was rated lowest in every other category vs. four options. In one category they were even rated "substandard." I would have loved to be in the room when this decision was being made. "They're the worst of all and in this one case, they can't provide what we need, but they are the cheapest." I pity the end-users. Actually, I pity all their employees and all their customers.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Small Giants – A book review of sorts

Kenneth Klassman of Horwood Marcus & Berk lent me his copy of Small Giants. (Bo Burlingham, 2005) It's about a number of business owners who decided to make (or keep) their businesses great at the expense of growth.

The book is mainly about this trade off. Being great, like consistent growth, is hard to sustain. The bigger catch is that being great is hard to define, whereas being bigger is more easily measured. The author tries to bottle "greatness", though doesn't quite succeed in my opinion. Along the way, however, we learn how these owners identified and took the less traveled fork.

While, like most business books, it could do with significant editing, there are many things I liked:

1) It was not fiction. Too many "business" books lately are about fictional companies that fall neatly into re-imagined paradigms to make the author's point. Real world is messy. Real business is messier. I mistrust business strategists that have to fabricate companies to fit their strategies. These writers' other, bigger problem is they also think they can write fiction. The ideas are often weak and the stories are poorly written. The people and companies in Small Giants are real, so you get insights into real-world decision paths that you might also someday face ... and a few solid marketing tactics.

2) It clearly highlights the outside pressure business owners get to grow their business, often without considering the business owner's personal goals. Business owners are under a great deal of pressure to grow their business. The higher your "score" the better you are as a businessperson. As someone who has "settled" (someone else's word, not mine) for a small company, I was pleased to read a counterpoint to success being building what you could, not what you want. It's not easy to grow a business. People that can make their companies bigger have a real and significant talent. But building the business you want is just as tough. To be fair, I know of a lot of businesses that are neither. Having the choice is a high class problem. And good for you if you can get there.

3) It provides plenty of valuable takeaways. Most good business books have one or two ideas that are worth the entire read. Small Giants is worth it for the "starfish" parable alone, but has, by my count, five more ideas that, each, would be worth the 215 page read.

I won't spoil the starfish story, but after reading that section I knew why I was so bothered by a process one of my clients put into place. The new process was efficient, both from a standpoint of time and money. But it was not the right thing to do.

The next day I put in place an effort to fix the process, even though only a few people might benefit. Perhaps as few as one or two. And it might take a significant amount of effort for this limited success. But the few people deserve it. And shame on us for not trying when we knew, in our hearts, that the less efficient path was the better one.

In short, Small Giants is well worth reading and I thank Kenny for the loan.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Using generic job descriptions to find (and fire) organizational dead wood

One of the things my firm does is build - and fix – marketing and bizdev teams. This requires assessing current and future staff and, unfortunately, being somewhat merciless when it comes to ensuring they are the right people with the right skills to accomplish the set goals.

Here's (part of) my strategy:

1) Get generic job descriptions for their roles. These are readily available from the trade organizations or your peers in those industries.
2) Assess each line on the job description by the following criteria:
a) Do we need this? If no, cross it off. If yes, continue.
b) Do we, as an organization, value this? And recognize and reward when this is done well? If you answer 'no' to either of these, then this is a big issue. The employee will succeed in an demotivating vacuum. You need to fix this disconnect.
c) Does the person currently do this? If yes, stop.
d) If they are not doing this, are they doing something more valuable? If yes, stop. (But who*, then, can do this?)
e) If they are not doing this and not doing anything more valuable, could they (with reasonable training OK) accomplish this? If no, then see the parens in the title.

Clearly generic job descriptions are only a starting point for these efforts. No organization is exactly like any other. I get that. But the positions within your structure should be benchmarked by some outside standard. Also, when employees compare compensation, this is where they will look. So, at least, you have some common language for your discussions.

More to the point: if the person cannot completely fulfill a generic job description and are not providing alternative value, then you are putting their personal needs above the goals of the department and the company. You should find someone else and they should find a place where their, shall we say, precision skills are more valued.

Now here's the fun and important part.

Before I bring on a new team member (or add to their roles/responsibilities), we clearly discuss the parts of their job that fail test 2b. This becomes their challenge, that is, helping to fix this part of the overall structure of the organization. They are asked to help me create - or develop on their own and then we can discuss – the path to getting the organization to recognize and reward successes here.

Others have written on why it's important to have people create their own paths for success and respect, so I'll end here.


*I have seen too many managers decide that they will add this line item to their own to do list. Wait, let me see if I understand. Your report has more important things to do than fulfill this line on their job description, but you do not? Here's what I do: Hand it down to this employee's subordinate (as a stretch goal) or go back to 2a and cross it off. Your team can't do everything.