Is Strategic Pricing Dead?

Given the accessibility of information, is it possible to be strategic in your pricing? Or do the ever-shifting sands of your competitors’ prices trap you?

Given the accessibility of pricing information today, is it possible to be strategic in pricing your products and services? Or do the ever-shifting sands of our competitors’ pricing trap us all?
Here’s a quick way to tell whether or not you’re being strategic in your pricing:

  1. When you create a new offering do you establish one price or a series of prices?
  2. When you change your prices, is it typically your initiative or a reaction to your competitors’ pricing?
  3. Do you match your competitors’ pricing?
  4. Does your product’s/service’s life cycle influence your pricing decisions?

The answers to these questions tell you all you need to know about whether or not you’re using a price strategy or merely reacting to your competitors’ pricing.

One price or series of prices?
If you’re establishing a single price for new offerings, you’re not developing a pricing strategy. Effective price strategies must include a series of prices to reflect:

  1. Your product’s/service’s life cycle.
  2. Changing customer tastes.
  3. Competitor offerings - current and anticipated.
  4. Value (pricing) by market segment.
  5. Offerings to companies outside your industry who compete for your market’s dollars.

This is not an all-inclusive list, but it gives you a sense for what’s involved in establishing a pricing strategy. Each of the items on the list indicate why we don't live in a one price fits all world. Here are some examples to illustrate this point.

Early adopters of innovation willingly pay multiples of what the mass market pays. That’s why it’s important to know what price you’ll charge at each phase of your product’s/service’s life cycle as well as how you’ll know when it’s time to change your price.

Similarly, prices can be dramatically different for different market segments. Why? Because the value to each segment can be dramatically different, as can the willingness of each segment to embrace change (new offerings). Some markets are more progressive than others.

When a competitor comes out with a new offering, especially one that appears to be superior to yours, how do you respond? How does that influence your pricing? More importantly, should it?

Many companies ‘improve’ their offerings only to find their customers are unwilling to pay for the improvement. Do you have a mechanism in place to evaluate the value of a competitor's improvement? If not, you’re likely to follow them down the rabbit hole or you'll lower prices when there's no need to do so.

Hopefully these illustrations demonstrate the importance of having a pricing strategy, one that incorporates a series of prices and price change triggers.
Now, let’s contrast this approach to reactionary pricing.

Price matching
Regardless of whether or not you’ve promulgated a price-matching program, if you regularly raise or lower your prices to reflect your competitors’ price changes, you’re price matching. There's nothing strategic about price matching. You have relinquished control to your competitors.

Yes, I’ve heard business leaders' claims that they need to be competitive, that products eventually become commodities and that buyers are price conscious. Unfortunately the business ‘leaders’ making those claims aren’t defining their terms.

What does it mean to be competitive? When does a product become a commodity? Are buyers really price-conscious? Let's explore each of these questions in more detail.

Competitive
What does it mean to be competitive? Offering more for the same price as your competitors are getting, is not being competitive, it’s folly. It confuses your customer! Here’s what they’re thinking - “If your product/service is so much better, than why doesn’t it cost more?”

That’s right. Despite all the claims that customers are price-sensitive, this price/value comparison gets made, if not consciously, then subconsciously. It’s intrinsic to the human psyche. Here's a situation that many of us have experienced.

You stop at your favorite ice cream shop and order your usual dessert. The clerk says “That’ll be $3.75.” It’s $.25 more than you have been paying.

Do you hesitate, even if for only a few seconds, before completing the purchase? Of course you do. You’re mind did a quick price/value calculation. If this is really your favorite ice cream, you'll quickly decide you're worth it and treat yourself despite the higher price. We do this all the time.

Because this thought process occurs subconsciously we don't realize we're making these calculations. Nor do our customers.

The moral of the story is to stop listening to the white noise of public opinion and pay attention to what our human nature tells us - to get more, you have to pay more. Then tout your value and price accordingly.

Commodities
I can’t tell you how often business owners/leaders tell me their offerings have become commodities in the eyes of their buyers. My response is always the same “If that’s really true, if you can’t add any value to that product, why are you still selling it?”

Come on folks, if what you’re offering is so readily available, if it’s of so little value to the customer, if customers view it as a necessary evil instead of something they desire, then why devote time, energy and resources to selling it? Why aren't you shifting your resources to producing and selling what your customers really want?

Conversely, if you are able to add value to the product, then why don’t your customers see that value? Why aren’t they willing to pay more to get that value?

More often than not it’s because you’ve devoted your marketing dollars to touting your low prices instead of the value you’re adding. Shift the focus of your marketing messages and you’ll shift your customers’ focus as well.

Price conscious customers
I’m not going to belabor the point. The reason customers are price conscious is we’ve trained them to be so. The vast majority of our marketing messages focus our customers’ attention on price instead of the value we provide. We’ve trained them to be price conscious, now it’s time to train them to be value oriented.

Is strategic pricing dead?
Almost, though it needn’t be. We have it within our power to become more strategic in our pricing. The knowledge and tools already exist and are readily available; we simply need to employ them.

The choice is basic - either you take control of one of the greatest drivers of your company’s profitability, your pricing, or you allow your competitors to control it. To me, that’s a no-brainer.

Dale Furtwengler is the author of the internationally acclaimed Pricing for Profit. His company, Furtwengler & Associates, Inc., helps companies get higher prices regardless of what their competitors or the economy are doing. For more pricing/branding/marketing/sales tips visit his website, PricingForProfitBook.com.

Video: Brand Personas – What and Why

Creating Brand Personas can help build a stronger culture and brand for your business. Learn what larger corporations have been doing for quite some time now.

What is a brand persona? A fictional profile of customer types written down in plain English. Why create Brand Personas? They help you understand your customers better. Instead of nameless, faceless, demographic data that makes it harder for you to have empathy, create personas that allow you to understand that pain points of your customers. After all, Branding = Relationship. And you can’t build relationships if all you are basing your marketing on is statistics.

To truly understand your prospects and customers, you need to have a relationship and understand motivations and hardships. Creating Brand Personas can help you create a customer-centric culture and improve your marketing initiatives.

Video: Keyword Research – What and Why

One of the biggest mistakes small business owners make is forgetting about Keyword Research before executing online marketing tactics.

What is keyword research? It is research to find out how certain keywords will perform and generate traffic on search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing.

Why go through the trouble of keyword research? Google is the new Yellow Pages in today's world. Information is available 24/7 through the Internet and other media channels. Smart devices now connected us more than ever before and make content widely available for consumers to make more informed decisions. If you want your business to be found online, it is best to know what your audience is tying in rather than making assumptions. You can also learn a lot about what your competition is doing and why they may be outranking you on search results.

Keyword research can be considered a turbo boost on how to get more traffic.

What does the customer think when you don’t take the high road?

Why you should ignore your competition and not engage them in a competition.

What do your customers think when you fall into the trap of bashing your competitor instead of taking the high road and staying focused on them instead?

I recently read an article about two local St. Louis attorneys who participated in a panel discussion about marketing within the legal profession. The two attorneys "let barbs fly" during this discussion. Hopefully these two attorneys don't have the same lack of values when it comes to doing business.

Their exchange begs the question: what is gained by criticizing your competitor in a public forum, or in your marketing strategy? Personally I see nothing is gained and in fact you have likely lost valuable ground because you have legitimized and acknowledged your competition. In fact, you have created a comparison between you and your competition that may not have occurred in the first place. Now every time a prospect hears a marketing message about one attorney, they think of the competing firm. I have never needed the services of either firm, but I personally have a link between both of them. And the link is not a positive one.

When it comes to professional services, such as hiring a marketing or PR firm or a lawyer, often times people think: “I’m going to talk to three firms before I make a decision.” Yet in all reality, people rarely interview multiple firms unless it’s through a Request for Quotes (RFQ) process. Instead, they make their decision based on referrals, word of mouth and reputation. So the key is to maintain a positive reputation.

In order to do so, it’s best when you take the high road and refrain from falling prey to volleying poisonous barbs with your competitors. Operating from high values instead results in a brand and reputation people respect and support. Your brand becomes positive and strong because you end up with a reputation people are happy to connect with; they value your positive, forward-thinking messages.

Can people connect with nasty barbs? Absolutely. A comment in the article cited one of the attorneys as saying that the expected turmoil was worth the price of admission for this specific conference. He had settled for drama and entertainment, but not necessarily good marketing.

In the end, customers don't care about you as much as they care about their experience of working with you. So before you fall into the trap of behaving in ways that set a competitor bad mouthing you, remember it’s smarter and more profitable to take the high road. In doing this, you are more likely to focus on what you want to deliver and your prospects remember that you have their interests in mind above all else.

For more information on this topic and other marketing and PR strategies and practices, visit www.kolbeco.net or contact me at 636-379-3895 x 13.

Four Reasons to use an outsourced marketing professional

Contrary to instinct, doing everything yourself does not, in the end, save money. Consider a different… scratch that… a BETTER approach.

Don't wait until you're pulling your hair out to discover the benefits of outsourcing. I have benefitted from my recent choice to outsource some of my own marketing efforts. Yes, there is a cost associated with that, but there's a bigger cost in doing everything myself.

If you're an experienced business owner, you've already made this discovery. Even though your instinct tells you to do everything yourself, you've discovered the liberating secret of proper outsourcing. Have you considered doing that with your marketing efforts?

Check out these four reasons to use an outsourced marketing professional

1) Doing everything yourself is a losing proposition

You suffer in several ways when you do everything on your own. You run out of energy and your mind becomes over-taxed. Let's face it; you can't do everything with excellence. At some things you rock, at others you do terribly. And the stuff you don't do well is often the stuff you hate doing.

You wouldn't hire people who are poorly suited for important work, so why do that yourself? You know you'll only lose productivity. What might go unnoticed, however, is the fact that the brainpower you've been wasting could have been used to build your business more effectively.

2) Two heads are better than one

Complex decision-making is much easier with a team. A fresh set of eyes and a different outlook make a remarkable difference. Your own perspective and knowledge base is not enough. Why not turbo-charge your abilities by getting input from an objective party? Quality marketing decisions and effective planning happens faster and more easily when you team up with someone else.

3) Your time is valuable

Calculate the hourly value of your time. It's probably worth more than you think. If you determine your time is worth $145/hour, for example, you can easily justify outsourcing certain things to people who can perform the same work better and faster for far less.

Your time has more than "production" value. Consider the hidden value that can't be calculated.

4) Brighter ideas come to light when you create "space"

Be proactive. Moving your business forward requires quality "think time." New and better ideas don't come freely when your mind is crowded. If you constantly function with no margin of time you never develop those business-booming ideas lurking in the shadows.

You can't afford to remain stagnant. Clear your plate. Bring other people into the mix. Free up your brain space to think creatively.

It's not IF, but HOW you use an outsourced marketing professional

If you own a business that's too small to afford a full time marketing manager, you owe it to yourself to get help from an outside source. Keep these points in mind.

Right sizing is essential: Use someone who has the flexibility to tailor his or her services to the needs of your business. Do you need a collaborative partner to help you think through your options and plan your next steps? A marketing coach might be the perfect solution for you. On the other hand, you might need the skills of someone who rolls up their sleeves and performs the work for which you don't have the time or ability. Find someone reliable who offers a variety of marketing services.

A structured approach lightens your load: You already have too many plates spinning. Some of them might be out of control. The last thing you need is more chaos. You'll find great relief when you use someone who brings order to the table.

How much is it costing you to do it all yourself? Don't put it off any longer. Contact a marketing professional today and find out how you can benefit from outsourcing.

Need help with your marketing efforts? Reach out to Steve Smart at srsmart@2qsolutions.net.

Video: The Importance of a Content Marketing Plan

A content marketing plan is extremely important. Many business owners want to get into email marketing, then suffer negative effects working without a plan.

Having a content marketing plan is extremely important. So many business owners understand conceptually they want to get into email marketing, social media, putting out a blog and then they get into it without a plan. Before doing this, marketing expert Tom Ruwitch recommends you consider the high price of operating without a good content marketing plan. What he witnesses from his extensive work with clients is that without one, you are more likely to

  • Get to deadlines and panic because you don’t know what you want to write.
  • Spin your wheels, waste time and fail to work productively
  • Miss the mark on being aligned with your sales calls and the needs of your target audience

Your plan should project an organized schedule of content concepts for three to six months. You will move forward confidently when you then commit to that plan. You save yourself a lot of headaches, are able to provide a cohesive message and work productively. For support in defining your content marketing plan, contact marketing expert Tom Ruwitch at MarketVolt by phone 314-993-3732 ext 18 or by emailtom@marketvolt.com or visit his website www.marketvolt.com

Video: Cold Email Marketing

One of the biggest mistakes business owners make is getting emails, and immediately presenting a sales pitch, only to find that nothing comes of it.

Many business owners want to target a specific ideal customer and don’t have a warm introduction to do so. Cold emailing is identifying a prospect you want to do business with, finding their email and getting information in front of them that is appealing and effective. Cold emailing is different than a permission-based email campaign. Expert Josh Turner cautions viewers to be mindful and lawful using email by following a proven approach for sending appropriate messages to prospects, including:

  • Approach prospects in a meaningful and responsible manner
  • Observe rules of conduct that keep you within legal email guidelines.
  • Hold the intention to initiate a conversation with your prospects rather than throwing them a sales pitch

For valuable support and guidance creating LinkedIn approaches that have been proven to work, contact LinkedIn expert Josh Turner atjoshturner@gatewaycfo.com or visit his website www.gatewayCFO.com

Video: Business Websites

A brochure website is very static. There’s so much more business owners can do with their website to gain a greater return on investment.

Web development expert Cesar Keller answers the question, “what is the difference between a brochure website and a business website?” His answer is that a brochure website is a very static website, simply a dump of content. There’s so much more that business owners can do to gain a return on investment. Today’s websites include the brochure data but are capable of extending value way beyond that aspect alone. Cesar Keller reminds viewers that among other things, your website can:

  • Assist you in building a pipeline of prospects
  • Be a living, breathing mechanism that brings you business
  • Incorporate tools that automate the building of your business
  • Provide processes that automatically function to save you time and gain you connections
  • Help you to convert prospects by moving them through the process steps that ultimately lead to sales

To learn more about and see the results possible through the skills and proven track record of Cesar Keller and SimpleFlame, call Cesar at 314-266-3485 or email him at cesar@simpleflame.com

The Power of Passion in Succeeding in Marketing and PR

It’s not just about a diploma hanging on the wall. Want to have success in marketing? Be passionate, push boundaries, and most importantly, make mistakes.

You have invested in your education and have a degree? Whether you have or not, your success depends on something more: Passion

So, you have a degree in marketing, communications or public relations. What does that mean for entering the work force? The harsh reality is that in many employers’ minds, it may not mean much, as a large number of people with college degrees have no practical experience and/or meaningful internships.

Of the resumes we receive at KolbeCo, roughly 20% have meaningful experience. In addition, they are not students of the media, meaning they don't watch the news, read the paper or are active in building a professional brand for themselves on social media.

As I look back at previous generations, many professionals of years past did not have the educational experience, but they had practical experience. They learned on the job. They were always passionate students of their trade.

Allow me to share my grandfather’s story, a man who faced a challenging childhood, managed to get a high school education, and started his career selling irons door-to-door during the Great Depression. But the man who began as an iron salesman had a passion for engineering. He was self-taught, never stopped learning, and went to work for Douglas Aircraft in California, which later merged and became McDonnell-Douglas.

During his time there, he became the chief engineer on the AV8 Harrier project and worked in a lead role on the Apollo project. Yet he only had a high school diploma. Why was he successful leading a team of 2200 engineers? Because he was a student of engineering – even in retirement!

He loved designing aircraft, and it was a big part of his identity. He remembered many of the internal debates within the walls of McDonnell Douglas – now Boeing. These were passionate debates on how to address problems and make designs better. Believe it or not, I have met people on his team who remember debates with my grandfather from 30 or 40 years ago! That is what I call passion.

I believe there are lessons to be learned from my grandfather’s story – lessons that translate to the marketing and PR industry. The story teaches us that it’s not just about a diploma hanging on the wall. Want to have success in marketing? Be passionate, push boundaries, and most importantly, make mistakes. Want to be a great PR person? Have a true, authentic appreciation for the media. Become a consumer of media – read a journalist’s articles, watch the news, follow them on social media, learn the audience. You will soon understand what a journalist or a producer likes. You don't need to ask them and shouldn't have to. As you learn this you become a resource as a PR person and not a pest.

But being a great professional is also about finding your personal passion, and gaining life experience. Looking to enter the marketing field and not sure how to get started? Volunteer at a nonprofit. Explore the world. The more depth you have as a marketing person the more creative you can become. While some of this comes from experience, there are numerous creative people who are young and always thinking of new ways to push the boundaries. As a new graduate, look to push the more senior experienced people to their limits as well. They will appreciate it if they too are passionate people.

Education is a great start, but where you go from there is up to you.

For marketing, branding and public relations assistance visitwww.kolbeco.net.

The Top Ten Questions When Considering Accounts Receivable Factoring

A business owner is considering Accounts Receivables Factoring to grow his business. Here are his top ten questions. An experienced factor supplies the answers.

What are ten of the most common questions of a business owner considering Accounts Receivable Factoring? An actual business owner has supplied this list of questions.

1. What will my customers say when they find out I am factoring my receivables?

Receivables-based financing is used by many of the largest corporations in the world to improve cash flow, support growth and increase profits. Many of your clients’ customers may use this service themselves and others have become familiar with it through vendors. The fact your company qualifies for this “credit line” makes a strong, positive statement about your company.

2. Will I lose control of my company?

You actually have more control over receivables when factoring than you would have with other traditional financing such as angel or venture capital as most of these funding resources want you to sell your business in the near future or they might want to replace management if they are not comfortable with the way your business is operated. With Accounts Receivable Factoring, factors keep you abreast of the whole payment cycle. You have visual access to your factoring account and can see open or closed invoices. Combined with purchase order funding, accounts receivable factoring provides you with the cash flow you need without having to give up ownership in your business.

3. How is accounts receivable factoring different from accounts receivable factoring from a bank?

The factoring company focuses on the creditworthiness of your customers while banks focus on your company’s financial history and cash flow. Since accounts receivable factoring is not a loan, it does not appear on your company’s balance sheet. Factors can make a quick funding decision while banks may take weeks or months to approve a loan.

4. You are charging 3% discount on thirty days, isn’t that a 36% interest rate?

This is an advance on receivables, not a loan. Therefore, you cannot calculate your cost that way. If you sell $100,000 in receivables per month and pay 3% per month, your cost is 3% of the total invoice amount or $36,000. You have at your disposal $1,200,000 per year. If you give your customers a 2% discount for paying in 10 days are you paying 72% interest? (2% on 10 days is 6% per month over 12 months = 72%). Can you see the error in this logic?

5. What do I need to qualify for accounts receivable factoring?

You need to be invoicing customers and you need a credit worthy customer. We check the credit of your customer, as this will give us an insight as to how your customer will pay. Incidentally, a good thing happens when your customer finds out you are factoring. These customers tend to pay faster. Why? Because factoring companies report payment trends to the credit bureau. And companies know if they don’t pay on time, their credit drops and this impacts the availability of their future credit. Also most factors want their clients to be registered in the state where they are doing business. You can be a new company, an established company in a growth pattern, or a company that cannot get a loan at this time and still can factor.

6. Can I keep my existing bank line of credit or my SBA loan?

Yes. While factors want to be in first position regarding factored receivables, we complement and work in cooperation with your existing lender to enable you to access even larger amounts of cash to keep your company moving forward. Banks are happy if you factor. You keep your money in their bank and we put more money in your account. They keep you as a customer and then when you want or can qualify for a bank loan, they are right there to help you with that transaction.

7. My payroll is next week; will I have my funding in place to pay my employees on time?

Factoring is quick, easy, and efficient. It has little paperwork. As part of the setting up process, you give a notification letter to your customer to let them know you are now working with us. We supply the form letter. You put it on your letterhead and send it to your customer. Invoice verification is an essential and accepted part of factoring. As soon as your customer signs and returns the notification letter to us, you can start receiving your first advance upon verification of the invoice. Usually it takes about 3-5 days to set up the process. Then advances can be made within hours.

8. How often can I factor?

You can factor as often as you need. Many customers factor several invoices per week, some factor once a month. It depends on your business and the industry you are in. There is no contract regarding length of time to factor. Stop when you wish, or continue as needed.

9. What are some of the other advantages companies enjoy when they factor?

A. They can take advantage of future sales and can execute on a big emergency or unexpected order.

B. They can use vendor discounts to save money.

C. Their credit score increases because they are now paying their bills on time.

D. They can add the factoring fee to their bid. This fee is written off as a business expense. Therefore they are getting immediate cash with little or no debt.

E. They can now focus “on” their company instead of “in” their company and can plan growth more efficiently.

10. What happens if my customer does not pay you?

There are usually two reasons why the customer doesn’t pay. A customer goes bankrupt or insolvent or there is something wrong with the product or service. Factors tell you if their due diligence shows your customer is not financially stable. This is another advantage of factoring. Secondly, factors will not be responsible for anything with the product or service. In any case, we can either take back an exchange invoice to collateralize the advance or we can charge the non-paid invoice back to you through a payment from your reserves.

Conclusion:

Accounts receivable factoring is a great choice for companies, especially those who cannot get traditional funding. While it may cost a little more, many business owners are willing to pay more to have the funding immediately needed to complete present contracts on time and on budget and have funding to go after future business instead of losing business waiting for checks to come in. Factoring is a way of receiving immediate cash with little or no debt and allows the business owner to have the peace of mind and time to work on their business without worrying about late check payments.

To find out more about accounts receivable factoring and to see if it is a financial fit for your company, contact Lexx Funding, Inc. at 636 458 2612 and ask for Joy Ann or email her at joyann@lexxfunding.com.

Writing for the Web

Content… it's the meat of your website.  A beautiful design can only get you so far.  It’s important to not only consider your message, but also refine the way you write your message for users to absorb on-screen.

 

Imagine how you feel when you visit a web site and immediately feel overwhelmed by small text and an abundance of content?  The messaging could be perfect, but the delivery of the message needs to be refined for the web medium.  Often times, companies approach content for their website like well-written documents, like reports, marketing literature, brochures, etc.  Web writing requires a unique approach, and in fact should seem very personable.  Besides some basic marketing writing tips, I will cover a few critical considerations that make a huge difference in how your website visitors digest your website information.

Write for Your Audience

As a rule of good marketing, make sure you have identified your target audience, and write to their needs, pain points or goals. It would be great to consider the following questions:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What content are they looking for?
  • What do they know about the topic/issue?
  • What are their reasons for reading this text/page?

In addition to identifying the information for your audience, also consider the relationship you want to create with your visitors, and ensure your tone matches.

Write for the Medium

This is where most people have the hardest time.  Writing for the Web is very different from writing for print. Visitors will not print your web pages and read them.  Users come to your site, and make a snap decision if this is “the right place”.  If they cannot figure out who you are, what you do and whether you are relevant to what they are looking for, they will leave.

People do not read a website, in the traditional sense.  79% of users scan the page instead of reading word-for-word. This could mainly be because reading from computer screens is 25% slower than from paper. It’s important to note that in our information age, attention is the scarce resource.  To ensure your content is digested, a good rule of thumb is to keep web content 50% of the word count of its paper equivalent.

In addition to text, since users like to scan, remember to vary your “content.”  Information can be presented a number of different ways on a website that is not as ideal in print. Take advantage of your medium.

Include Search-related Keywords

Besides direct traffic from clients and referred visitors, people find you, your services, solutions and/or products through search.  In fact, more than half of web users rely on search engines to navigate pages or find relevant information online. So it’s important to use keyword-rich, relevant query terms on pertinent pages that can be used to search for the topic of the page.  The reason this is so important is because search engine results only provide relevant queries, which is based on the relevancy of certain keywords used within the context of the page.  You hear people reference being at the top of Google. This is very true; people typically do not go past page 1 or 2 of a search query.

The best way to generate a list of your ideal keywords is to research common synonyms and generic terms used by customers or competing companies, and include those within the content of the page.

These tips help improve your visitor’s time on site and with conversions, even if that means a successful contact form submission. If you can talk the right talk to your identified audience, write specific to the web medium, understand how people use the web to digest information, and ultimately craft your message to be tracked appropriately by Google using relevant, keyword-rich content to your visitors, your web writing has worked for you.

For deeper strategies, techniques and takeaways on writing specifically for the web, read “Essential Strategies for Web Writing”, available to Academy members.

Short Circuiting Your Brand Through Employee Disengagement

I was recently contemplating a trip with the guys when I suddenly received an invite to the Brickyard NASCAR in Indianapolis. If you know me, my idea of a man weekend is backpacking in the Rocky Mountains. But I thought new experiences are always good.

We arrived in Indianapolis the day before the race and decided to walk around the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. As we got into the track, we took a tour and went to the vendor exhibits. The exhibit space was a lollapalooza of brands. Millions had been spent to engage loyal NASCAR fans.

We decided to look for one of our client’s exhibit spaces. After we took some pictures of the client's racecar in the Chevrolet exhibit, I went exploring.

Being a marketing junkie, I went and visited the Chevrolet “customer engagement” area; the area had computer terminals so I registered. I checked three boxes and the PR team gave me a free T-Shirt. About a minute later I received an email from Chevrolet thanking me for my interest in Chevy automobiles. Nice and quick follow up.

Then I saw the Chevy Volt that has become a political lightening storm. Being the curious type I decided to pay the car a visit. I asked the person at the exhibit what she thought of the car and she said, “Not much, I think it is really a dumb idea”. Then I said, “Well that is brutally honest.” So through further conversation I asked her if she worked for GM and she said she worked for a PR firm in New York (She named the firm). I suddenly cringed thinking what this client is paying to have this person promote a unique product she doesn’t believe in. Obviously they have an employee who is not fully engaged.

In the end, the thing I took away from the exhibit was the comments about the Volt. In a different light it was a really nice car. But as she explained all the benefits and tax incentives available, not one stuck in my head. I just kept thinking this person doesn’t believe in the product. Often times employee disengagement is not this obvious. So think how only a partially disengaged employee may impact your brand.

On a different note, Chevrolet did send a follow up direct mail piece to my house and had a local dealership email a couple times.  This was a nice follow up piece and is something any brand can take advantage of, whether large or small. The only thing it didn’t address was the lack of engagement by the person working the Volt display. Below is the piece I received:
Just remember your people make or break your brand. So keep that in mind when staffing shows or with any touch point with customers. It doesn’t matter if you spend millions on marketing or thousands.

If you would like to know more about experiential branding, and create a stage for your business that your customers will not forget, call KolbeCo and ask for Scott at 636.379.3895 or email scott@kolbeco.net.

What Can Marketers Learn from the Netflix Research Machine?

Effective Problem Solving Tools help your organization succeed.

Netflix began as a DVD rent-by-mail service that evolved -- first into a video on-demand provider and most recently as a broadcaster of original content. In January, Netflix premiered “House of Cards,” a political drama directed by David Fincher and starring Kevin Spacey. The show is loosely based on a British television show of the same name. It is exclusively available -- for no extra charge -- to Netflix subscribers.

The show has garnered critical praise and plenty of buzz among analysts who question whether Netflix will succeed in the original programming game.

Don’t bet against Netflix. The company has made a very educated bet on this program -- a bet that can teach all marketers some valuable lessons.

“Executives at the company knew it would be a hit before anyone shouted ‘action’,” according to a New York Times article that describes Netflix’s decision to carry the show.

Before committing to “House of Cards,” Netflix studied data from its 33 million worldwide subscribers. According to the Times article, the company looked at several data points:

  • How many people and who watched from beginning to end “The Social Network,” the 2010 film about Facebook also directed by Fincher.
  • How many people and who have watched films with Kevin Spacey.
  • How many people and who watched the British “House of Cards.”

The intersection of these data points represents a vast, prospective audience for the new show. Even those who fall into just two of the three camps -- Social Network, Spacey, and British version -- are likely to give the new show a try. Netflix wasn’t guessing when it committed to House of Cards. Netflix knew it had an audience for the show.

So what can small business marketers learn from this behemoth with 33 million customers?

The question Netflix asked is the same question you should ask: How many and who? The more you know about your prospects and clients, the more you can offer products and services that will sell, and the more you can identify and connect with those most likely to buy.

You can employ marketing media and tactics that answer the questions:

  • How many people and who opened the email I sent?
  • How many people and who clicked the link in that email?
  • How many people and who liked and/or shared that post on my social media page?
  • How many people and who downloaded the free report I offered on my web site?
  • How many people and who checked the box indicating interest in product ‘x’ in my online survey?

The “House of Cards” story shows how a company may use this data to instruct product development.

“How many and who..?” also can help a business separate prospects from suspects. I haven’t received this email yet, but it won’t surprise me if I eventually receive an email from Netflix promoting a new film with Kevin Spacey, or another movie directed by David Fincher, or another show like “House of Cards.” I might receive that email because I’ve been watching “House of Cards” and Netflix knows it.

The more you know about the people on your list, the better able you are to deliver relevant content to them.

Amazon mastered this long ago. Netflix is well on its way.

The good news: You have access to email marketing, social media, web analytics, and other tools that empower you to ask and answer -- just like Netflix: How many and who?

A Snapshot or a Story

Marketing people don’t always agree…if you had just one tool to use to sell, would it be words or images?

 

Talk to some marketing people and they’ll tell you no one reads anymore, that all people want to see is a picture of whatever it is you sell.  Others tell you images you create in the mind of your prospects are much stronger than real images seen in print or on television.  The best way to create these mental images, they say, is through the skillful use of words.

If I had to choose one over the other – if I only had one tool I could use to sell, I would use words.  After all, there may not be a more powerful force on the planet than words.  Words can unite a nation, inspire confidence, cause men and women to willingly risk their lives for a cause, and move people to cry, laugh, or become blind with rage.

As the old proverb says – the tongue holds the power of life and death.

But, here’s the thing, why choose?  Why not use both words and pictures in your marketing and advertising pieces?

Why not create a look, feel, and message all communicating the same strong, believable story.  What should your strong, believable story be?  That you are the go-to company for whatever it is you sell to the market of your choice.

I’m not a graphic designer, nor an artist.  I’m a copywriter.  So, I have purposefully surrounded myself with great graphic designers.  I’ve been in the business long enough to know what is likely to work, and what won’t.  But, I’m never the one who creates the final layout, logo, or graphic piece.

My guess is that as a business owner, graphic design isn’t your thing (probably not writing either for that matter).

One of the absolutely most valuable things you could do for your business is partner with a great marketing person or team.  Someone who understands how to craft a message to move your prospects to take action, and who understands graphic design should further enforce your message or story.

So, which is more powerful a snap shot or a story?

The answer: the right combination of both is ultimately the most powerful.  A strong story, descriptive images, and a well-designed logo all mesh together to create a powerful marketing message.

Your logo is a picture of your message.  It’s the stamp, or seal communicating the essence or your story – your brand.

Does Your Sales Pitch Pass the “Why” Test?

Why should your prospect care about the product or service you are pitching? If you start with that question you distill the core benefits that drive sales.

Earlier this summer, my wife and I shopped for a new mattress. The first salesman we encountered pitched one with a new-fangled spring system. He described the coil count, the wire thickness, the spring material, and other data meant to convince us we could not live without this mattress.

When he ended his speech, I asked, “Why should I care about all of that stuff?”

He looked at me as if I was a Martian.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I suspect everything you told me is important. But I don’t understand why any of this matters.”

He sighed. “Because our springs are more durable,” he said.

I didn’t say anything, but the expression on my face said it again, “Why should I care?”

“The springs hold their shape,” he added.

Standing nearby, the store manager joined the conversation. “Do you suffer any back pain?” he asked?

“I do,” my wife said.

The manager explained that as mattresses age, the springs begin to compress. That creates soft spots and valleys, which contribute to back pain. This mattress protects your back because the springs are stronger and longer lasting.

A mattress that protects my wife’s back! Now that’s a reason to care.

Do your sales pitches pass the “why should I care?’” test? Too often, we pitch our products and services by discussing the what and the how, rather than the why.

Thick, multi-coil, steel springs are the what and how. Protecting your back is the why.

Marketers often refer to features vs. benefits. But I prefer what/how vs. why. The words “what,” “how,” and “why” frame the questions:

Why should I care? If you answer that question first, you articulate the core benefit. Then you prove your case with the what and how.

The mattress store manager understood that. Rather than start with spring count and other data, he reminded us we care to protect your backs; we care to have a mattress that lasts, on average, five years longer so you can save money and protect the environment; and we care to sleep better.

When he claimed we would sleep better, I asked him, “How…?”

The independent spring system means one person can toss and turn on one side of the bed without rocking the other side of the bed.

The manager started with why (“so you can sleep better) and followed with what and how (“the spring system”).

Review your sales pitches -- what you say on the telephone, the copy you place in advertisements, the words you write in emails and letters. As you discuss your products and services, imagine you are a prospect and ask, “Why should I care?” Craft an answer for the prospect and repeat the “Why...” question.

Remember, the mattress salesman did not get to the real “why” -- even though I asked him more than once. We often default to the what and the how. So keep asking, “Why...?” until you distill your story to its core benefits. If you practice this technique regularly, you will naturally begin your sales conversations where they ought to be -- with the why.

For specific help increasing your marketing voltage, visit me at www.marketvolt.com.

Website Shortcuts That Lead to Disaster

Allow me for a moment to read your mind.

Let’s see… ah, you want to be at the top of Google when someone searches for your business.  Good plan, terrific goal and smart way to use your marketing budget for the next year.

Can you imagine for a minute how many business owners think the same thing at some point? “We need to be at the top!” they say.  I’m sure a lot say it, but only a few act upon that idea.

Or they act on it in all the wrong ways.

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Three Things You Should Own But Probably Don’t

Unfortunately, when your online strategy does get attention, it's just long enough for you to call someone that can handle it for you - which can lead to some disastrous decisions. Well, kinda.

Many local Internet marketing and web design shops are more than happy to help, and many of them can do a great job. They take care of setting up your site, get your analytics and ads running, and off you go. Life is good, right?

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The Psyche of Cold Calling Prospects

Cold calling and telemarketing are one of the strong tools in the “marketing tool box” most owners and sales people need to address. Cold calling is ONE of the main mechanisms to the successful sales person. It is important to realize the phone is your best friend, not the enemy. Calling is a means to an end; to take you from point A to point M eating!

Strategic skill sets include; being disciplined, having persistence and topping that off with consistency equals the KEY to your BREAKTHROUGH every time.

What you do on a daily basis has a huge impact on your future sales. Your attitude determines your altitude. (How high you fly)

The decisions you make about cold calling, guide your direction, which determines your destiny.

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, learning from failure.” Colin Powell.

Sales Rule of Thirds

As a sales person or business owner, make sure you comprehend the sales RULE OF THIRDS.
You get 1/3 of your sales, no matter what you do. And 1/3 of sales you are not going to get. It is the last 1/3 of the sales which are up for grabs, and where excellent sales people separate themselves from mediocre sales people.

Leveraging the last 1/3 of the sales process and knowing you are the person responsible for making things happen requires you take goal oriented action to increase your sales.

A Look at the Psyche of Cold Calling 

Sales people typically see cold calling as scary, unpleasant, boring, repetitive, pressurized, confrontational, getting rejections, and demoralizing.

Let’s look at how prospects see cold calling done poorly. They view it as a nuisance, unwanted, dishonest, tricky, shifty, contrived, unprepared, indiscriminate, insulting and patronizing.

Now adopt a new perspective and reverse your mindset. Let’s look at what successful cold calling really means. It should be straight forward, honest and open, interesting and helpful, thoughtful and reasoned, professional and business like, enthusiastic and upbeat, informative, thought provoking, along with credible and reliable.

Read the above psyche areas over and over, understand what YOU view cold calling as to your personality. Then realize what the prospect feels on the other end of the phone, and make cold calling the success side it needs to be to generate meetings that result in proposals, that pump up the sales that make you money. Be a winner on the phone and don’t let cold calling slow you down. Have an attitude of “I am the best caller on my sales team”, and be passionate about conversing on the phone, sharing your smile, happiness and confidence which plays through the phone, then the prospect respects your call and in return sets up that meeting!

“The winners in life think constantly in terms of I can, I will, and I am. Losers, on the other hand, concentrate their waking thoughts on what they should have or would have done, or what they can't do.” Dennis Waitley

Be the best at your sales craft, study the psyche of cold calling, focus on what the prospect will be excited to hear in your sales pitch, and GAIN that last 1/3 of the sales you are due, never looking back, only moving forward to the next phone call to repeat the winning process over and over and over again!

John Eyres, President of Business Connections Consulting, works with many sales people and business owners to sharpen their cold calling skills and better understand the process of telemarketing. John resides in St. Louis, MO and can be reached via phone at 314-495-2089 or email;johneyres@busconcon.com.

Separate Prospects from Suspects to Sell More and Suffer Less

Bill succeeds because he separates prospects from suspects... He speaks to people who view him as a welcome guest, not an unwanted pest.

I once worked with a sadistic guy named Ken who loved to punish the door-to-door salespeople who visited our office. If he was in a good mood (not often), Ken would gently point to the "No Solicitations" sign on our door, and say, "I'm sorry. We don't allow door-to-door sales. Go peddle your stuff somewhere else." Even when sounding calm, Ken was mean. If Ken was in a bad mood (usually) or if the "peddler" did not leave immediately, watch out! I heard Ken verbally abuse a water cooler salesman in ways that would make the saltiest sailor blush. I once saw a copier salesman dash from our office after Ken threatened to "shove that toner cartridge..." You get the idea.

We eventually fired Ken because of how he treated vendors, coworkers and clients. While we did not condone his behavior, we also did not sympathize with those sales people who invited the wrath of Ken. Every time they fled from our office, I thought, "Why do they put themselves through this?" Cold calling every name on a list or knocking on every door on every floor is an uncomfortable, unproductive way to make a living.

Compare that to Bill, a copier salesperson who called me last month. I met Bill a few months earlier at a networking event where we exchanged cards. He asked whether he could add me to his mailing list (he did not assume my permission just because I handed him my card). I received one email a month after that.

When Bill called, he said, “We met a few months ago and you’re on my email list.” I remembered him, of course. I had received his most recent email just two days earlier. The conversation proceeded with ease and ended with a meeting scheduled.

When we met, I asked Bill why he chose to call me on the day he did. “Because you’ve been reading and clicking on my emails,” he said. Bill explained he no longer goes door to door or makes call telephone calls. Instead, he establishes relationships with people through networking, referrals, web site inquiries, and other methods – in all cases inviting his new contacts to join his email list. He sends regular emails that offer office automation tips and other useful content – not just product pitches. And he uses email software that tracks who opens and who clicks. Those engaged readers are the prospects he telephones or visits.

In a fraction of the time, he schedules more appointments and ultimately makes more sales. And he does not have to face sadists like Ken who love to abuse cold-callers.

Bill succeeds because he separates prospects from suspects. He schedules more meetings with fewer calls because he speaks to people who view him as a welcome guest, not an unwanted pest.

Had Bill been a stranger who appeared at my office uninvited, I probably would not have spoken to him. Had he simply collected my card at the networking event and then called me (without engaging me through his emails), I probably would have pushed him away. Had he called on me even if I never opened his emails, I might not have remembered him and I certainly would not have known how much value he could offer.

Instead, Bill called on me only after he knew I was engaged. I had opened his email. I had clicked the link. I knew him. I showed interest.

Your time is precious. When you call on people who don’t know you and view you as a pest, you usually waste that precious time. Rather than wasting time calling on the suspects, spend some time to identify and cultivate true prospects.

There are many ways to do this. As Bill demonstrated, delivering valuable, engaging content via an email newsletter is a very effective way to do it. But how do you start? How do you plan and deliver an email newsletter that people will open and click? I answer those questions in this article in the e4e Academy.

The changing and growing landscape of SEO

 

A few days ago I received a call from a local divorce attorney that wanted more information on my SEO services. After a few preliminary questions, I realized I was speaking with a receptionist who had been tasked to 'find out more' about SEO. This is definitely not the first time this has happened, and I'm sure it won't be the last.

So if you've been tasked by management to research SEO for your business, here's the full scoop.

SEO isn't a one-time thing. It's an ever growing and changing landscape that involves a lot of factors. If you are looking for a quick fix to get to the top of google, you might as well stop reading here because you won’t find it. There's no such thing, and if any marketing company tells you different, it is lying (and stealing your money).

In short, there are two main parts to SEO.

Onsite SEO

There are a lot of things you can do to your website that can influence the search engines to like you more. These include heading tags, page titles and a variety of other factors. Each one of these items needs to be addressed and fixed when necessary. A high level SEO audit can help you find many of these and, depending on your coding skill level, can be fixed without hiring an SEO guru.

While not a direct SEO factor, your websites usability should be taken into consideration at an early stage. If you can’t easily update your website, or it looks like it was built in the late 80s, it is probably time for a redesign. This can be costly, but if you are serious about SEO, it's not something you should dismiss quickly. I have turned down many good clients because they thought their website (usually one they built themselves) was the best thing since sliced bread. It's not.

Redesigning your website at an early stage in the SEO process is not only a smart investment, it makes your job a lot easier down the road when your SEO starts giving you tasks that need to be completed through the website. Using a user-friendly content management system (CMS) such as WordPress is a good way to go. You'll be glad you did.

A good onsite SEO evaluation should also include a conversation around calls to action. Since the ultimate goal of your SEO campaign is usually more leads (NOT more traffic), you should consider what sort of target audience you are hoping to attract and what sort of actions you want them to take once they visit your website. These are crucial to having a successful online marketing strategy.

Offsite SEO

Here's where SEO gets interesting. Believe it or not, there are a lot of things you can do on other people’s websites that affects your overall rankings. While it would be impossible for me to list them all, I'll try to hit the main ones.

Links

In short, the overall amount of positive links you have leading back to your website influences your overall rankings. I say positive, because there are a lot of easy ways to get links, but they aren't necessarily good links. Heck, I could get you a thousand links tomorrow if you'd like (and some SEO agencies still offer this service) but they'd be useless, if not hurtful for your overall goals.

So what is a good link?

A good link is a link from a similar industry website, blog or social profile. This means if you sell goggles, a link from a site like sears.com would be more desirable than a link from a site like wesellgogglespleasebuyonline.net. The authority and reputation Sears has far outweighs that of the latter.

Unfortunately, getting links from high authority sites isn't always easy. It takes time, it takes a process, and sometimes it just takes cash.

What then is a bad link?

A bad link is a link from a non-related website, a link directory or a site in a 'bad neighborhood' (porn, pharmaceuticals, etc).

Bad links are easy to get. You can use an automated submission tool, or just hire some company in India to do it for you. I wouldn't recommend it, though.

A Natural Link Profile

Up until recently, building links was always a process focused around keywords. Links based on words you use in your industry were worth more than links indicating 'click here' or 'check out this site'. However, a recent update from google called Penguin changed this line of thinking. Search engines are now looking for a good mix of both keyword, brand-related and generic links. When considering hiring an SEO person, make sure they understand the value of this mixture.

Citations

For businesses with real physical addresses, citations can play an important role in your overall search engine rankings. A citation is a mention of your business name, address and phone number on another website. It may or may not contain a link to your website, and that's ok.

Search engines use these mentions as indicators your business is real, so it is important every citation around the Internet has the exact same phone number, address, etc.

Getting started

If you are serious about getting started with SEO, please read my post on different options you have, what steps you need to take, and how to determine a good SEO from a bad one.

Two Files Every Website Should Have

When a search engine 'bot' visits your site for the first time, it looks for two files right off the bat: robots.txt and sitemap.xml. Search engines use these files to learn about your website and can make recommendations on optimizing, modifying, and even fixing your website.

The robots.txt file is like a stop light. It tells bots where they can crawl and where they cannot. Don't want your images included in Google index? This is where you tell them. Don't want them to crawl your admin section? I don't blame you. Block them.

The robots file goes in your root directory, and is a simple text file you can edit with notepad or any text editor. To see if you have one, just visit http://www.yourdomain.com/robots.txt. If nothing is found, you do not have a robots file or you put it in the wrong place.

There are two basic parts to the robots file: the bot specification and permissions for that bot. Only want to block your site from Yahoo!? You can (although I'm not sure why you would).

Lastly, you can add a line to tell search engines where to find your site map file. This is the full URL.

The other file, sitemap.xml, is just what it sounds like. It's a sitemap, or roadmap, of your entire website - complete with links to every page all bundled into one nice little file. To make this file, visit xml-sitemaps.com, put in your website address and it provides back to you a downloadable file for you to put on your website. The only downside to this process is you have to redo it every time your site changes.

If you're using WordPress, it's even simpler. Plugins like Yoast (is Yoast correct?) SEO (which I recommend) and Google XML Sitemaps will create and update your Sitemap file with every change you make.

Lastly, you can add a line to tell search engines where to find your site map file. This is the full URL path, so in most cases it will be

sitemap: http://www.yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml

Having these two files on your website makes it easier for search engines to know what your website is about and will decrease the time it takes to get your new site indexed.

How to Use LinkedIn Signal to Find Prospects Who Want What You Sell

LinkedIn Signal (http://www.linkedin.com/signal/) is one of the most powerful tools available on the internet.

If you know how to use it properly, you can literally find any conversation on LinkedIn. Conversations happening between people not even connected to you, including groups you don’t belong to.

It is literally one of the best customer intelligence tools out there, and it’s free.

Imagine you had a tool for discovering any time somebody talked about your products or services on LinkedIn. If you think this might be a great strategy to find new leads and build relationships with highly targeted prospects, you’re correct.

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Are You a Google Ostrich?

Don't bury your head in the sand, adapt to the new SEO reality.

Marketing would be easy if you could ignore the Google's disruptive algorithm changes. But doing so puts your business at risk.

We all want to make things fast and easy to get found online and sell more. The desire to minimize the resources to get the job done is simply part of human nature.

But fast and easy can come back to bite you. Here's a guiding principle that will help you be more successful in the new SEO reality: Get away from easy, manipulative SEO methods. Instead, create high quality content people want to link to.

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