Saturday, February 19

Brand vs. bland: The most cost-effective ways to market your company 

Guest column by Tom Marin, Orlando Business Journal

Brand marketing is facing a power-shift in today's marketplace.

Customers want to be part of a brand's direction and development. Listening to their expectations can determine your firm's level of success.

To take full advantage of today's market share, companies will need to "lose" control of their marketing strategy to ultimately gain it, by embracing this powerful dynamic of customer expectations.

Fifty years ago, there weren't the number of brands or media choices there are today. The market is filled with brands, sub-brands, cross-brands, and strategic-brand partnerships. Add to that list the ever-increasing media choices, including Internet marketing, and it's difficult to make a minor change to a brand that will affect top-line sales significantly.

Investing in cutting-edge, no-cost and low-cost promotional tools for branding ideas will allow you to market your company profitably. Consider these suggestions for energizing your brand in today's marketplace:

• Create uniqueness.

Uniqueness is a brand's No. 1 asset. The greater the brand uniqueness, the higher its score in market share. And those brands that create a unique brand category usually become the leaders.

What comes to mind when you consider: theme park, soft drink or overnight delivery? Most likely it is Disney, Coke and FedEx. They are the recognized leaders, though there are other brands in their categories.

Your brand's uniqueness can be determined by completing this sentence: Our (brand name) is the only (product category) that (does what).

• Replace repetition with interactive promotions.

A common branding strategy is repetition of the brand message to build awareness. This strategy is not as effective as interactive promotions.

For example, a 30-day trial use, a sample pack, an on-premise presentation or a portion of the service you offer are all effective interactive strategies. They allow customers to discover the benefits of your brand and move closer to making a purchase decision than the repetitious sales pitch provides.

• Replace outbound marketing with inbound branding.

Traditional methods of outbound marketing include telemarketing, voicemail campaigns, e-mails and direct marketing. These standard marketing strategies have become less effective because people use spam-ware, caller ID, firewall devices and the "circular file" to eliminate them.

Internet searches have become a primary source for obtaining product information. Popular Web sites such as Google and Yahoo are tapping the exploding volume of today's online buyer. To increase your potential customer base, consider using these methods:

1. Publish articles on Web sites that are relevant to your target audience.

2. Write book reviews on related topics for Web sites such as Amazon.com.

3. Publicize your brand on Web sites like prnewswire.com and prweb.com.

4. Increase your online identity with listings on LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, Ziggs, Naymz and others.

• Replace monolithic marketing with customer-centric branding.

Don't be a follower. If you're trying to overtake a brand leader, don't emulate their strategies. Create your own. And let your strategy strike at the heart of what your key customers want. Of course, knowing what they want will be paramount to your success, so ask them.

• Don't plan for overnight success.

If someone offered me $10 million to help them launch a successful brand tomorrow, I'd tell them instead to give me $1 million and five years to make their brand successful. Understanding this dynamic of time, I'll bring home the bacon based on what prospective customers want.

Accepting and using this branding power-shift between you and your customer will allow you to involve their needs in your strategy and, in time, will establish your brand successfully. Their involvement offers them new reasons for becoming a loyal customer.

Thursday, February 3

Cold Calling Works: You Just Do It Wrong 

Brrrr... I've just been cold calling and boy could I use some hot chicken soup!
Just those two words together — cold-calling — put many people far away from warm and happy. Given that it's so much fun for so many people, and that I have heard a number of times recently that the last nail has been banged into the cold calling coffin, why is cold calling still even on our radar screens?
Because it works.
"It doesn't work," you say? Well, in one sense I agree with you: there are a million ways to do it wrong and fail. Fail at something enough, and it's easy to dismiss the whole tactic. (No matter how many times I try, I just can't hit a Jonathan Papelbon fastball. Swinging a bat at a baseball must not work!)
Before we get into how to make cold calling work, let's first establish that it does work. Of 30 possible marketing tactics for services firms, one rose to the top as the most effective in the research report Increasing Marketing Effectiveness at Professional Firms conducted by Expertise Marketing and LawMarketing.com in 2006.
The top most effective tactic--the tactic above all other tactics--was "arranging business development appointments with clients and prospects." When I last checked, the best way to arrange a business development appointment was neither telegram nor skywriting.
Meanwhile, case study after case study confirms that cold calling can work. For example, I've seen cold calling work as a major part of a lead generation approach, yielding 6 clients in 6 months (a major acceleration of client additions), and increasing the pipeline by fivefold, for Deep Customer Connections, a management consulting firm in the insurance industry.
Making Ten Million Dollars
Many anti-cold-calling folks say, "There are so many powerful ways to build your client base, why even bother trying cold calling? You can give speeches. Publish articles and books. Work your network: it's more extensive than you probably think."
To paraphrase a famous business person (Comedian Steve Martin):
  • Question: What's the secret to making ten million dollars?
  • Answer: First, start with nine million dollars.
Well, some people don't write very well, they don't have extensive networks, and speaking isn't their bag. Some people can't wait a year for a lead to materialize out of their writing or their network! If you can employ these tactics, great. It's like starting with nine million. But regardless of whether you start with nine million or no million, cold calling still works.
What's In It For Me (WIIFM)
Let's assume you're a Chief Strategy Officer at an $800 million dollar manufacturing firm in Ohio. Someone calls you and says, "My name is John Smith and I'm a change management consultant. Do you need change? Let's meet." Even if you're headed to the vending machine, your immediate change needs probably won't include John Smith.
But let's say John calls and says, "My name is John Smith. The reason I'm calling is because my firm, the ABC Consulting Group, has just recently conducted a major benchmark study on how manufacturing businesses-including Competitor 1 and Competitor 2 of yours-in the Midwest are succeeding with their labor unions in the face of global outsourcing. There are 3 practices that are working across the board and a few that fail most everyplace. If you're interested, we'd be happy to come by and take you through the results."
If this topic is on your mind, you might risk a 1/2 hour to hear the results. Or you might have some questions right then and there. Either way, if I'm John, I've presented my cold "introduction" of myself and my firm to your company in a way that delivers value to you.
Will everyone take me up on this meeting? Of course not. But if my target list is well segmented and clean, a number of prospects will. When I get in front of them, the topic of conversation will be my recent research, work, and expertise-not a "get to know you and sell you" meeting.
A conversation about recent research is just one of many potential value propositions for the meeting. (For more about value propositions for meetings, read Making Lead Generation Work for Professional Services: Secret #2.) You might not want to present research because it might not be the best entry for you. But if you're worth your salt as a professional services provider, a conversation with you should be able to offer something of strong value. (If you can't figure out how you can deliver value in a conversation, find a new line of work.)
Regardless of the meeting premise, I have to handle the conversation well to get the best result from this meeting, but the ball is definitely in my court as to what happens from here on out.
How The Numbers Work
Answer the following question: If you get 10 meetings with 10 company leaders who have the right title, are in the right organization, and have the right criteria for being a good prospect for you, and you stay in touch with them fairly regularly in a meaningful way after the meeting, how many would become clients of yours in some capacity over the next year or two?
The most common answers I get for this question are "two or three" or "eight or nine". Let's assume you're more modest, and the answer is two.
Next question: What does a bread-and-butter client represent to you in terms of revenue over the course of a year? It could be $7k, $70k, $170k, $700k, or anything. Let's assume it's $70k.
So, for the cost of setting up 10 meetings with prospects, whatever that cost is, the immediate return on your investment is $140k. This, of course, doesn't take into account long term ROI factors such as repeat business and increased referrals.
The fallacy, in many cases, is that most service providers aren't as good at closing as they think they are, and they don't continue to stay in touch with the prospect regularly and meaningfully after they meet with them. But these factors don't have anything to do with cold calling. They have to do with your ongoing marketing, and the resources you devote to follow up. The cold calling part works fine for what it's supposed to do: make an introduction with a prospective client that can lead to a good relationship. How you choose to develop that relationship is a different matter.
Have Someone Else Call For You
Maybe your practice is busy and you just don't have time to call. Or maybe your practice isn't busy, and you need to invest in generating leads. Either way, you can have someone else make the calls for you.
Even the busiest of professionals have time to meet with a CEO of a company who could be a great client for them. So you go on the meetings. What you don't have to do is make the actual calls.
Reread the WIIFM section of this article above. In the beginning, you must work to craft the lead generation process. You must be involved in targeting the right prospects, providing the strongest value proposition, and working with your telephone business developers to represent you clearly, strongly, and fairly. Then, let them go to work. Cold calling itself is not something that you, personally, need to get good at.
I could make more points that demonstrate how cold calling can work for professional service businesses, and on how to make cold calling itself work better. But for some of you who doubt the process, it still wouldn't be enough, and that's fine.
It's been said that people make decisions with their hearts and justify them with their heads. People don't want to make cold calls, and some don't want to be associated with the method. So they figure out how to justify not employing cold calling, or why other things work better.
If you don't want to make cold calls, don't. But cold calling does work. Most people just do it wrong.
For more information on cold calling and lead generation, check out:
  • RainToday's guide How To Set Appointments Through Cold Calling
  • Wellesley Hills Group's white paper Making Lead Generation Work For Professional Services
  • Contributing Editor John Doerr's article From Cold To Gold: Getting The Most From Cold Call Set Meetings

Mike Schultz is the Publisher of RainToday.com and an advisor to service businesses worldwide as President of the Wellesley Hills Group. He also writes the Services Insider Blog and can be reached at mschultz@raintoday.com.

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