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Clean Beds And A Lesson In Pricing

It’s tough not to get hung up on cost isn’t it? In particular, we marketers can get caught up in what our competition is selling their wares for and get a twinge of anxiety. Are we selling for the right price? What if someone else has found out how to do the same thing cheaper?

All this ignores what’s really important, however. And that’s the distinct difference between cost and value. To illustrate, here’s what happened to our family over the Thanksgiving holiday. We decided to make the 1000+ mile road trip from Austin to Virginia. The driving was great (we left Austin the weekend prior to Thanksgiving and started our return on Black Friday – thanks folks for shopping instead of driving). What was not so great were the cheap accommodations we went with along the way.

See, we didn’t intentionally choose cheap motels, but went with them because these are the ones that openly label themselves as “pet friendly”. The trip to Virginia, we went with a La Quinta which was serviceable. Not terribly clean but not terribly dirty either. The particular Red Roof Inn we went with on the way back to Austin was far less than okay (which is being rather charitable). Even though we had a nonsmoking room, the sheets reeked of nicotine. We were tired and accepted it, thinking its just for one night. At 3am, my oldest daughter woke us up and complained that her bed was giving her asthma problems and she was having trouble breathing. Well heck, if I’m awake at 3am I might as well pack us up and finish the drive…and that’s what we did.

My purpose to this story isn’t to pile on either La Quinta or Red Roof Inn. I’ve stayed in some nice ones. And I’m fully aware we should have changed rooms and mentioned it to the front desk. That’s on us. My purpose is to show that having the lowest price isn’t always the main selling point. Think we got any value out of that cheap room when we only stayed until 3am? Nope. I would have paid double to have a good night sleep.

So instead of engaging in that race to the bottom which is inevitable in any pricing war, think about value and what your target customers value in your product or service. Message to what problems you solve and how that value makes you the clear choice. It’s very likely that clean sheets and a soft pillow will beat out a cheap price to a weary traveler.

photo credit: Chrispitality via Flickr

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Relationship Marketing Is A Steaming Pile Of…

I’ve had it. I’ve more than had it…I’m at a place where if I hear another marketing wizard continue to use the words ‘relationship’ or ‘social’ in front of the word ‘marketing’, I’m going to come after them with a pitchfork or whatever sharp pointy object that’s close at hand.

Why? Because if you still believe marketing is separated from building relationships or being social (whatever that hell really means anyway), then you really don’t understand marketing. Please, do us all a favor? Just call it marketing. Stop trying to fleece the ignorant and misinformed. And then try something novel: do the work that marketing does without going into the need of throwing out empty platitudes and worthless buzzwords.

And sales? You’re not off the hook, either. If anything, sales has been and always shall be about relationships. So don’t call it ‘relationship sales’ or ‘social selling’. These are just bullshit words that make you look either ignorant or sleazy.

Got examples of this crap in action today? Let’s share…comments welcomes below.

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Trade Show Survival Tips For The Introvert

I just returned from managing my first trade show booth in nearly five years. Turns out there were some simple things I remembered:

  1. Comfortable shoes are a life saver (turns out my Lucchese boots fit the bill nicely).
  2. Make incremental adjustments to booth setup depending on the attendee behavior (we moved our tchotchkes closer to the front to encourage more takeaways).
  3. Smile and call folks by their name (it’s no accident why events have those big name tags featuring attendee first names).

But I also realized there are some fairly important tips I’ve developed that help me – as an introvert – to successfully cope with the demands of working a trade booth. The biggest misconception of introverts is that we’re shy which is only somewhat true. Some of us introverts (like me) have extrovert tendencies so we enjoy interacting with strangers and carrying on interesting conversations. Where we do tend to differ from our extrovert counterparts is that being in and around large groups of people drains our betteries. So for that reason, we introverts need to carefully manage our energy in order to start and finish a trade show strong. Here are a few tips that I’ve used that have helped me…and hopefully they’ll help you:

Take care of ourselves. We need to eat a healthy breakfast, get plenty of sleep, drink lots of water, and breathe. Trade shows are incredibly demanding of our focused energy so it’s crucial that we tend to our physical, mental, and emotional needs.

Make time for some alone time. Our batteries get drained by being on the show floor so it’s only logical that they need to be recharged. That usually requires some alone or quiet time. If we’re going to make it through that two or three day show, we can’t do it on depleted energy reserves.

Take breaks when they come. It’s natural to have some lulls in show traffic. We need to take advantage of them to recollect ourselves and be ready for when the next wave of traffic hits.

Have fun…but within limits. Trade shows can be a lot of fun. We get the opportunity to meet a diverse crowd of folks, learn about their work, and find ways we might be able to help them. We also get out of the office and visit some interesting places. But it’s important to remember we’re there for work first and foremost. Going out drinking and clubbing every night is fine if you’re one of the rare individuals who can function on little sleep and hungover. I’ve yet to meet an introvert who can do that.

Don’t apologize for who we are. Seriously. Accept that most folks who staff trade booths are extroverted by nature and gather energy by being around other people. We can’t try to keep up with them like its some kind of test of strength. If we do, we’re probably going to lose. So if you’re feeling a little run down, graciously head back to your room for the evening, order room service, and just relax with a book or television.

If you’re an introvert, what other advice would you offer? I’d love to hear about your own experience so leave a comment below.

Additional Resources:
The Surprising Value of Introverted Trade Show Booth Staffers
from Mike Thimmesch at Skyline Trade Show Tips
You’re Just Not That Into Me (the introvert’s guide to attending a conference) from Lisa Petrilli at C-Level Strategies

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Does Your Marketing Suffer From Mural Dyslexia?

Last week, I chatted with a marketing colleague over lunch. I hadn’t seen her in a while so it was great to catch up and hear about her new job. For the most part, she’s quite happy and thankful to have good work (hey, let’s be honest…unemployment sucks). But there was one detail that just stuck with me over the past few days…probably because we all can relate. She works with someone suffering from mural dyslexia.

What’s mural dyslexia? It’s an unfortunate condition affecting 96.3% (give or take a few percentage points) of otherwise smart and capable individuals today. Sadly, it doesn’t discriminate based on whether you’re a manager in Austin, marketer in Atlanta, software developer in Silicon Valley, or jobseeker in New York. It’s a debilitating disorder that may contribute to loss of job, income, and reputation. Mural dyslexia, in plain English, is the inability to read the writing on the wall.

Here’s the situation that she gave to me: a fellow marketer at her company had developed a very strong lead generation program for his product division. Roughly three years of hard work in developing a product brand, a trade show presence, a webinar series, and a collateral storehouse was driving in several new leads per week. Sounds good, right? Who wouldn’t want scores of leads for their sales team? When I commented about all the sales he was undoubtedly responsible for generating, she gave me a look that said, “Silly rabbit, who mentioned anything about new sales?”

Turns out this strong lead generation program wasn’t driving sales because it was attracting the wrong types of people – primarily individuals with little to no intent of buying the product. If you’re like me, you’re probably asking, “Then, why the hell is this lead generation program still running in its present, non-sales-producing form?” Because of mural dyslexia.

I’d like to say the cure for mural dyslexia is a swift kick in the ass. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple (or cathartic). You’re asking someone to change the way they see the world and themselves, which is always an emotionally charged issue. You could also say strong management focus on results would greatly help and you wouldn’t be wrong.

What’s your prescription for dealing with mural dyslexia – your own or someone else’s case?

photo credit: Mr. T in DC (via Flickr)

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Is Your Website All Pretty and No Purpose?

I hate the holiday shopping hoards and the inevitable battle against the sea of over-tired and under-patient humanity. Thank heavens for the internet. I try to do most of my Christmas shopping online these days, but it’s almost unavoidable that I’ll need to pick at least one gift up at an actual brick-and-mortar store. So it is that I found myself at one of the local upscale outdoor shopping centers that are prevalent throughout Austin. These places are far more than your everyday, pedestrian strip malls. They have immaculate boulevards and well-landscaped walkways to entice us weary shoppers out of our hard-earned money by convincing us we’re far more cosmopolitan than we might actually be. These shopping centers also have their typical upscale retail establishments like J. Crew, Coach and Burberry with their artfully designed storefronts. But as I entered another of these stores, I found myself faced with a parallel to something I see frequently in my work.

The store’s windows and exterior were creatively developed to be eye-catching. I imagine someone painstakingly took their time to design and arrange the various props to entice casual shoppers like me to open the door. It was all so neatly done that I felt compelled to go inside and see if they had a gift for my wife. And here’s where the disappointment hit me like Santa himself swinging a bag of coal at my head. Not one of the sales staff welcomed me, not one asked if I was looking for anything in particular, not one did anything that would potentially complete a successful transaction. As easily as I entered, I left. What the hell was the whole point of the work devoted on the outside if it all goes to waste inside?

Now before you think this is just a problem with the retail buying experience as a whole, let’s think about a similar experience in the online world. Most businesses know they need a web presence to compete and so they go through the exercise of creating a spectacularly beautiful site. It has all the bells and whistles we associate with business or e-commerce websites. It’s chock full of animation and sliding panels and dancing kittens and all the usual links to every single social media network known to man. You look at it and think, “My word, this is the most impressive website I have ever seen and will likely see ever again!” And then what? Well, this is often where all that wondrous and creative design talent goes straight down the crapper. No one ever thought to ask about business objectives or about generating a sale. In other words, your customer just walked through the door based on an artful exterior but doesn’t know what to do next…so they wander aimlessly and likely leave.

Most consumer-driven websites unfortunately don’t focus on the all-important Ask, which is the primary funnel for directing visitors toward taking an action. But there are a few things you can do to ensure that your site not only looks great but fulfills the investment you’ve made in your web presence.

Know your goals before ever thinking about design. Don’t spend all that time on the external window dressing only to ignore the reason why your customers enter in the first place. I can’t say how many times I’ve seen clients get wrapped up in the design process without a clear vision for what they want their site to achieve. It’s the classic case of putting the cart before the horse. Before building a new site or committing to a redesign project, get clear about what you want your site to do to drive business to you.

Be crystal clear and inviting with your Ask. Think of your website’s Ask as the warm greeting your customer receives when they enter the store. If you know your audience’s needs, then your Ask should be a knowledgeable sort of “How can I help you today?” What does your business do and how does your website help you do it better? If your business is built to sell directly to your visitor, then develop an Ask that guides your prospect toward making a purchase or bundle of purchases. Or perhaps you’re a B2B company that uses your site to offer product information and generate leads; if so, then create an Ask that funnels visitors toward a lead generation form. Whatever you choose for your Ask, make it not only clear, strong and tied to your business goals, but focused on the psychological needs of your customer.

Measure your results. You just can’t assume that your Ask is going to be automatically successful. That’s like having a great storefront and a greeter at the door only to take whatever money you receive from purchases and toss it in a bag and forget about it. You have to know whether what you’re doing is leading to achieving the key objectives you set for your business at the beginning. Same thing for your site. Know whether your Ask is funneling prospects toward completing a goal. There are several tools to help you like Google Analytics. It’s free so you have no good reason for not incorporating measurement into your plans for success.

Your website isn’t just there to look pretty. It has a purpose. Help your customers achieve their purpose through a great Ask and you’ll see successful results.

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How Not to Be a Social Media Jackal

Yesterday, Matt Singley (@mattsingley) asked a simple, but rather provocative question via Twitter:

What ensued was an interesting mini-conversation about how to successfully and effectively engage with a competitor’s customers through social media.

The set-up
Let’s say you work for Company Y in Matt’s scenario and have a social media/online monitoring program that watches not only for mentions of your company’s name but your competitors’ names, as well (and if you don’t already have such a program in place, I happen to know a very good agency that can help you).  In the course of your monitoring, you discover that Company X has screwed up and now has some royally discontented customers. What do you do?

Your first instinct may be to jump on this golden opportunity quickly so you can grab some new customers…and I’m going to suggest you squelch this instinct. By being overzealous in your online efforts, you can actually do more harm to your company’s online reputation than good. Don’t be the jackal eagerly waiting to pick off the discontented carcasses of your competitors’ customers.

What should you do, instead?
First, listen, do a little legwork, understand. Find out what happened. In our online world, it’s not that hard to uncover what’s going on when a competitor screws up. Do not – REPEAT, DO NOT – wade into any tweetstream or blogpost until you figure out what’s going on. Failing to grasp an initial understanding of how the customer feels will only make you appear insincere and predatory.

Second, be a human being. Sorry if that seems overly simplistic and obvious, but its astounding how often we forget that long-term sales relationships starts with treating customers like humans with respect. After gaining an understanding of the situation, practice some empathy. Ask yourself, “If I was this individual, would I want someone to start aggressively hawking their wares under my nose right now? Or would I prefer someone to treat me better than I’ve just been treated by Company X?” A little empathy goes a long ways.

What might this look like? Here is a fresh scenario from Twitter:
A customer becomes irritated with a rival’s product or service. Here’s an example from @Dotpage who is calling out @logitech’s slow driver updates:

Let’s say you work for Altec Lansing and uncover a tweet like this. Now maybe no one – including your own company – has drivers ready for Snow Leopard, but here’s a prime opportunity for you to approach a competitor’s disgruntled customer. A course of action might be to research the social media chatter coming from Twitter (http://search.twitter.com/search?q=+to%3Alogitech) where you’ll find this issue is significant source of irritation among Logitech’s customers. Then, your first @ reply should be to note the problems faced by the individual – in this case, a lack of updated drivers. Perhaps send a tweet such as “Sorry to hear about the problems you’re having with speaker drivers…it sucks to not be able to hear sounds from your Mac.” Resist the urge to openly sell your product on first tweet. Remember, your aim is to build a long-term relationship not make a quick sale.

Not everyone you send @ replies are going to respond and that’s okay. For those individuals who do reply, here’s the opportunity to guide your competitor’s customer toward your own products and services. Ask what they want from a product, what drives them crazy, what a company can do to improve their experience. You now have a personal, one-to-one conversation with a buyer that can turn them into a raving fan. People become passionate about purchasing from other people, particularly those who genuinely want the best for them. This interaction can be a catalyst for introducing a customer to your own products and services without the need for even making an open sales call.

After you’ve made contact with the individual on Twitter, then follow them. Don’t make following the first course of action – this is the type of behavior that bots employ and again can be seen as an overly aggressive predatory tactic that will turn off the potential prospect.

Third, make sure every single person in your company is working from the same playbook. This is where breaking down silos and cross-functional planning cannot be under-emphasized. If just one person from your company leaps in like a jackal, then there’s a better-than-average chance your company’s image will be tarnished along with that of Company X.

Any thoughts or counterarguments here? What’s worked for you as a disgruntled customer? What’s worked or hasn’t worked for your company in having conversations like these?

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Sales Are Driven By Relationships Not Ads

How do you communicate with your current customers? Do you only send them mail when you’re launching a new product or email them when there’s an upgrade to purchase? Have you taken a good hard look at what you communicate and how often you communicate it? Is it all BUY, BUY, BUY?

If so, that’s a prescription for buyer fatigue. The reality is that sales are driven by relationships not broadcasted advertisements.

In many ways, this is nothing new. Years ago, when I took over as director of membership development for a professional association I encountered similar outreach attitudes. The only time the association sent a message to a member was when their membership was about to expire. For first year members, the communication path was to send an overwhelmingly large welcome packet (or the “hernia kit” as it was jokingly termed) and little else until their membership expiration notice nine months later. As you can imagine, that did nothing to build the kind of engagement necessary to guide that new member toward renewing for a second year. Does this sound familiar?

When I entered, we assessed the plan but we did more that just retool around specific objectives. We knew what we wanted: renewals. What was missing from the prior plan was what our members actually wanted. They wanted value, they wanted a relationship with the association, they wanted to be recognized as more than a walking wallet.

Take a look at how your company is building relationships with your customers. If your only communicating more ways for customers to buy, then you’re likely not cultivating the long-term relationships necessary to generate more sales to your current base. And this is a base that – if they’re wildly engaged and passionately loyal to your company – are going to spur referrals.

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Intuition and Innovation

Are you getting caught up trying to sell a process? Perhaps trying to sell a process that is probably easily replicable? Or worse, trying to sell a process that’s proprietary and mired in so much paranoid legalese and bureaucratic crap that the client really doesn’t know what they buying? Josh Kamler at tiny gigantic urges you to stop:

I’d say that intuition and innovation are similar beasts. That innovation doesn’t actually happen without intuition. The sooner you get your your clients to realize that they’ve bought not a process but a rare group of people who have the courage, creativity, humility, and perseverence to begin making a thing without knowing what it will be and who have the intuition to suddenly see it when they’ve stumbled across it, your services become way more valuable and way less common than some guaranteed proprietary process.

Sell what truly makes your service marketable – the unique genius of you and your people. All the other stuff isn’t really that remarkable.

BONUS: Rosa Say also wrote a post called When Made to Stick Will. You’ll find similarly intriguing ideas there.

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Is There Room For ‘We’ In Your Elevator?

Arnie Herz at Legal Sanity recently wrote a post referencing some familiar advice for crafting an effective elevator speech. The latest conventional wisdom would have us believe that the best elevator pitch is not about us, but about the other individual. The principal strategy is to set our needs to the side and focus exclusively on the needs of the potential customer, member, or client. After all, the reason we’re in business to service them, isn’t it?

Well, yes and no. Arnie writes that this strategy misses a greater point:

Business relationships are as much about valuing and evincing our selves as they are about reaching and helping others. Both aspects (self and other) need to be expressed and honored to foster lasting connections for business success and satisfaction.

There seems to be this tacit understanding that relationships in business are different from those elsewhere in life. Perhaps it’s okay to screw over a vendor in your business, but it’s clearly not acceptable to do the same to a friend. Or maybe it’s fine to do everything to make a member happy but necessary to put conditions on making our spouses equally happy. It’s as if we are two individuals merely sharing the same skin, which might explain why we’re so damned unhappy at times.

Like Arnie, I believe there’s a different way…one that accepts that our core values define our relationships regardless if they are business or personal. There is no need for this artificial schism. What if, instead of making the elevator pitch primarily (or solely) about the other person or even selfishly about ourselves, we use the AND proposition and make it about us. The pitch then becomes one for a mutually respectful relationship where the needs of both sides have equal importance.

Not realistic? Think a customer or member is too self-interested, focused too much on what they gain? Maybe, but then, that’s the message they’ve been trained well to absorb. This is an invitation to propose a new type of relationship, one that addresses the client’s needs, but also honors our own goals, dreams, and possibilities. There’s no way to do any of this when the relationship becomes imbalanced and the customer’s needs are always put first. Actually, that’s not a relationship…it’s servitude.

And we have a choice.

From Bailey WorkPlay, first published March 8, 2006

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Step Away From The Trade Booth

Here’s a little fact about me: I don’t like trade shows. From the visitor side, they make me uncomfortable. I’m always afraid to make eye contact with an exhibitor for fear that I’m going to get the full-on sales blitz. And usually it’s for a service or product that I really don’t need. Ever try to get away from these guys or gals (yes, the sales blitz technique is equal opportunity in its usage)? Nothing less than having a heart attack will allow you to elude their grasp.

From the exhibitor side, I’m not a big fan of them, either. There’s a certain quality of salesmanship that I find hard to grasp…there’s also a certain quality of will that doesn’t seem entirely authentic for me. And I guess it all comes down to my preference for depth. Can you develop a deep connection with a potential member, customer, or client in the span of 5-7 minutes (that’s the average amount of time you get to speak to one person at a trade booth)? Probably not, which is why so much leg work is required after the show to seal the deal. The practice of trade show exhibiting assumes that you already KNOW the needs and desires of your customers – it’s just a matter of talking to them until they fully know it.

Of course, there are alternatives. It starts by doing this: take all the <em>assumptions</em> you have about your customers – what they want, how they want it, what they expect from your products and services – and get rid of them. Write them down and burn them in your wastebasket. Give them the ceremonial flush down the toilet. The important point is to realize you may not know anything real about the folks with which you want to connect.

Now, take all the money that you would spend on your trade booth and put it toward the conference registration (you might even find this is less expensive). Don’t exhibit; instead, be a student. Go to the sessions and honestly listen to what the presenters have to say, attend the workshops and openly participate in the dialogues. In between, strike up real conversations with fellow attendees and figure out what’s going on in their lives and their work. Of course, be prepared with some brochures and swap business cards. But remember, the point isn’t to deluge the other person with info about your product or service (if that’s what you’re really after, be truthful about it and just get yourself a trade booth). The point is to immerse yourself in the rich world of your customer. What you give up in terms of having a long list of prospects (many of which may never be interested in you anyway), you gain in having a deep understanding of the individuals who comprise your market and how you can make their lives better. Trust me, they’ll love you for it.

From Bailey WorkPlay, first published November 7, 2005 (with minor edits)

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