Ask, Challenge, Debate

Does Your Company Head for the Hills When a Prospect Heads South?

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. ”This oft-quoted line from Cool Hand Luke can make a huge difference to your company’s future success, if you dig for the issue causing a deal to die. Is it a product development, marketing or sales methodology? What’s the best way to find out?

There are a number of ways prospects can elude a buying decision and politely shut a deal down: “We’ve decided that we’re happy with our current supplier. Your products seem to be the same as our current supplier. Your price is too high. We’re not ready to pull the trigger.”

How does your company respond? Do salespeople sheepishly offer to check back later and pray for the prospect’s dissatisfaction? Do they plead with management to lower the price to win the deal? Or when the deal’s dead, does the story end?

None of these options help you find out why the prospect bowed out. In fact, most companies miss a golden opportunity to learn from an unsuccessful prospect engagement where the source of failure might be and subsequently corrected for fostering greater success.

If you want to know, just ask

The best way to find out is pretty obvious—just ask. Are companies embarrassed about calling the prospect? Or maybe they’re afraid of what they might find out—like bad product, bad reputation, bad marketing, bad salesperson? Ignorance may be bliss, but it won’t help companies do more business.

There is one valid fear, and it’s that they may not get honest answers that will help them. Since in general people want to be nice, they shy away from negative remarks about anything or anyone related to the caller. This is where an experienced third party’s help with a lost-deal audit could make a real difference in pulling out candid feedback.

Product, positioning, pitch

Lost-deal audits should be structured around three main areas: the product or service, its positioning and messaging, and the sales method. Each of these areas offers an opportunity to distinguish itself from competitors. Questions must be carefully worded to:

  • Unearth prospect’s buying criteria that explains why they are “happy” with their current supplier
  • Learn about the differentiators that would motivate prospects to explore alternative solutions
  • Delve into the prospect’s focus on price
  • Discover prospect’s unmet needs

 The art of the audit

While it is critical to craft questions for each prospect from the salesperson’s recall and notes, there’s an art to delivering them. While it may appear fairly straightforward to establish a role as an impartial information gatherer, the researcher must also build rapport with the prospect. What’s more there’s a great amount of experience and finesse required to know when and how to pursue certain answers with additional, non-scripted questions to gain additional insights.

A skilled auditor helps your company improve product development, marketing, and sales efforts by delivering information used to:

  • Analyze key competitors to understand why you lose deals to them
  • Develop true differentiators that outsell competitors
  • Create compelling positioning and messages that turn others’ happy clients into your receptive buyers

Don’t let a “failure to communicate” on any level go unchecked. Learn what’s limiting your results. And let us know if we can get you started.

 

 

How Much Should I Budget for Marketing?

What’s the first rule in determining your marketing budget? If you don’t know, congratulations, because there is no hard and fast rule. While 10 percent of revenue is a popular figure, budgeting should be a process that revolves around your company’s specific situation, goals and requirements.

According to one CMO survey published by the American Marketing Association and Duke University, the averages for marketing investment as a percentage of revenue by business type were:

  • B2B Product Businesses: 10.6%
  • B2B Service Businesses: 10.1%
  • B2C Product Businesses: 16.3%
  • B2C Service Businesses: 10.9%

There are many considerations for planning your marketing budget from ground zero. In addition to your projected gross revenue, your industry and business stage are primary considerations. Newer companies trying to build recognition for emerging brands among markets that don’t know them may need a larger budget. More established brands may require a smaller budget to maintain market familiarity. Many businesses allocate up to 3-5 percent of projected gross revenues for start-up marketing and 2-3 percent of actual or projected gross revenues for run-rate marketing.

Certainly underfunding marketing is a mistake, but proper budget allocation is just as crucial to ensure you cover key bases. First consider the two broad buckets—brand development through your website, blogs, sales collateral, etc. and promoting your business (campaigns, public relations, social media, advertising, events, etc.). Then home in on the specific areas contained in these buckets. The actual amount for each area depends on the age and size of your company, product goals, and reach (national, local, global). Your buckets may include the following:

  • Branding
  • Website
  • Social media
  • Public Relations
  • Advertising
  • Content Development
  • Events

Align Budget with Goals & Measure Results

Your budget allocation should align to your marketing plan, which explains how you are going to achieve marketing goals within a certain timeframe. The budget needs to be somewhat flexible for accommodating unplanned opportunities and needs, such as a lead-generation campaign to boost sagging sales or an event sponsorship. And while marketing plans should be created/updated annually at a minimum, launching a new product/service and changes in the market landscape changes (a frequent occurrence today) requires reassessment of a plan.

Don’t forget about a plan to measure how the activities you’ve budgeted for are impacting marketing goals. You may need to adjust your budget on the fly based on actual results, so stay on top of them monthly with readily available analytics including but not limited to:

  • How many product inquiries and sales leads were generated, and what is the potential value of those leads?
  • How many deals were closed and at what value?
  • How much did website visitor traffic grow? Did the number of page views and time spent on your website increase?
  • How many subscribers signed up for your blog? How many new Twitter followers did you add?

Budgeting for annual, semi-annual or even quarterly research into your target market helps ensure that budgeted activities are reaching and impacting them. The results of this effort are extremely helpful in allocating future budgets that are based on real market perception.

Determining and allocating your budget sets the stage for your success. We know what has worked for our clients. And we can help you create a communications plan that meets your budget and achieves your goals. So let’s talk. Call us at 651-247-6640.

Will “good old” values survive the new age of communications?

Will “good old” values survive the new age of communications? It’s a good question. Look around. Society encourages us to do more in less time—at home and at work. We teach our kids to mimic the behavior we abhor. We entice them with cell phones, video distractions in motor vehicles, and dinner accompanied by television— interferences that limit opportunities to engage future generations in dialog about life and the art of conversation.

At work we utilize new and engaging technology to do more faster. We label this “efficient”. We text peers about projects in the works while attending meetings about projects to come. We email, search Google, and post to social media while participating in webinars. We want immediate answers to our questions and want to skip the supporting material. The art of communication has given way to 140 characters and has superseded communicating clearly in importance.

I work with some pretty amazing people—smart and successful business professionals required to interact with a variety of people at all levels. However, as a communications professional, I find myself cringing at the lack of attention to professional courtesy, manners and I’m just going to say it…grammar. Our leaders of tomorrow can’t write and often come across as flippant, terse and even rude.

Now I know the new age of communications has forced its hand, and individuals are just trying to be efficient, but please. Does it take that much time to re-read an email and make sure words are spelled correctly and that it supports professional decorum?

This isn’t just a business phenomenon. It’s graduation time. My husband and I have received thank you notes from some pretty amazing kids that are getting ready to start the next phase of their lives. However, as we read the letters, it was apparent just how much we’re failing them. Riddled with grammar and spelling errors and rarely longer than two sentences, we were clobbered with insincerity and thoughtlessness. Perhaps it wasn’t meant that way, but people don’t remember what you say. They remember how you make them feel. Graduation thank you notes are early networking tools, with long lasting impressions.

I fear we’re raising a generation with high expectations that call for an immediate return on investment before actually putting in the hard work or effort. Is this realistic? Can we as a society support this? What we view as rude we excuse in our youth. We need to expect more from future generations. Civility and manners are important in communications. Let’s set a good example and encourage high standards.

Old Values for a New Age?

Without the brilliant comedy of late night talk show hosts, the decline of America’s social fabric would weigh more heavily on me. My longing for a kinder, gentler society that values civility would no doubt drive me insane. I wonder if others share the feeling that America has “lost it”?

“It” is how we engage and communicate with each other—a critical piece of our humanity. This isn’t about politics or sexually explicated language. It’s about the deterioration of basic politeness and rational action evidenced in our most basic cultural forms: musical lyrics that spew hate and advocate violence; tweeted aspersions; infiltration of such fare on prime time TV and radio (particularly talk shows). It’s a maleficent menu that includes road rage and offensive gestures.

As a communications professional who has for decades made a living carefully choosing words, I am concerned—no, deeply afraid—where displays of disrespect may be leading us. I envision a slippery slope. After all, it was shocking to hear that four-letter word for the first time in a business conversation, but it doesn’t take long to become de-sensitized.

While I applaud the open nature of the internet and social media for myriads of opportunities, I have serious misgivings about the lack of personal accountability for published information. Should candor entail abuse? Should honesty give way to rude behavior?

Our language reveals who we are as individuals and who we are as a culture and society. What’s to become of “us”?

12 Things to Expect from a PR Firm

Ragan’s PR Daily put out a list of qualities that you should expect from your PR firm so I thought it was worth sharing with all of you. Do you agree? Feel free to challenge or add your own ideas. We would love to hear from you.

From Ragan’s PR Daily (Posted January 25, 2013):

Here are some important qualities you should expect form an agency that is committed to your success. You need an agency that:

1. Owns the process. You want an agency that will never say, “Well, we sent you the guidelines for the Forbes contributed article three months ago and never heard back.” Your agency should be a professional nagger—they should never let you be the reason for a missed deadline.

2. Pushes back. You are hiring a PR firm for its expertise, so find one that provides firm recommendations. If your account team is constantly nodding their heads and yessing you, there is a problem. The success of your PR program requires a team leader who can adamantly say no in the face of tough scrutiny when something just won’t work.

3. Knows when to give in. There are times when other company goals, such as sales campaigns, take priority over PR (for example, when a sales team is under the gun to meet quarterly goals and needs to push out a direct email campaign in advance of the press release). Your PR firm should tell you the optimal plan for getting great media coverage, but should also accept it when PR is not at the top of the list.

4. Makes it happen. Only clients should have the luxury of asking big questions without offering solutions, such as, “How can we maximize our attendance at an upcoming trade show?” Good PR firms know that the right response is a list of viable options, not more questions.

5. Surprises you with unexpected and creative ideas. Your PR firm should march to the beat of the PR plan, but they should also bring you unexpected and creative ideas. This demonstrates that they are paying active attention. Only intellectually hungry people will tie the right pieces together to make you relevant in a way that matters to the press.

6. Owns mistakes. If your agency needs to be right all of the time, it’s a problem. You need an agency that abides by the rules of crisis PR (even when the crisis is a very small one): tell it all, truthfully, and tell it now. This takes confidence and humility, but it is the sign of a great communicator.

7. Hustles. Look for an agency that is pushing you, not the other way around.

8. Writes well. Content marketing has changed PR forever. Adequate press release writing skills are no longer enough. You need an agency that can sift through mountains of information, zero in on the interesting angle, and ghost author an article for your spokesperson. Ask for samples, and look at the agency’s blog.

9. Listens intently. PR people are renowned great talkers. We need to be. However, we need to know how to listen, too. You need a PR agency full of the kind of analytical and open minds that can scan the conversation for points of interest, drive the discussion toward them and relate them to your broader industry.

10. Empathizes. You need a PR agency team that can imagine what it’s like to be you. What pressures do you face internally, from your board, from competitors, others? Is PR central to your role or tangential? Coincidentally, this skill also makes PR people great at media relations—we must imagine what it’s like to be each reporter if we have a prayer of selling a story.

11. Navigates options and contingencies like an attorney. There are many decisions we must make along the winding route between the pitch and the placement. You need an agency that understands the media landscape—which outlets (and journalists) compete, which reporters require exclusives, which ones care about embargoes, and which angles will compel coverage.

Sifting through these and responding appropriately when an embargo is broken or an exclusive falls through tests the skills of the best PR professionals, so make sure you have a team that can bend gracefully when a critical relationship is at stake, and hold firm when your company goals require it.

12. Thick skin. PR people sit in the middle of two constituents whose goals are not always aligned: the media and our clients. Finding the common ground that creates successful outcomes for both requires an ability to handle discord well.

Have social media made newsletters passé?

I was nearing a project deadline and was particularly annoyed with a deluge of emails, including a barrage of newsletters I subscribe to. It got me questioning the value of those newsletters. After all, there are copious amounts of information available 24/7 through dozens of social networks. So should we cross newsletters off of our marketing budgets?

 

Here are a few points to consider:

  • Audience: Do your target markets “do” social media? Would they prefer email?

A newsletter enables you to segment your markets and target specific segments   with appropriate content. Some content may be useful in closing “hot” prospects.

News from newsletters posted on other websites reaches different audiences.

 

  • Timing: Is it beneficial to control when your news is distributed (email) or posted?

Social media fills the “cracks” between email newsletters.

 

  • Objective: Is a newsletter an appropriate channel for achieving your objectives?

Linking channels is a smart strategy for achieving frequency and broadening your

reach.

 

  • Message: Take advantage of the synergy offered by blog posts and social media to turbo-charge your messages.

 

  • Brand: meaningful content boosts brand recognition and reminds existing customers about your products/services and expertise.

 

So what do you think? Are newsletters still a viable part of your marketing mix?

How to Work with Internal and External Marcom/PR Professionals

Is Your Marketing Communications/PR an Innie or Outie?
Many a marcom/PR exec has asked the age-old question of whether tis better to retain this function totally inside or work with one or more outside partners. The argument can be made for both sides, but the answer is likely to depend on budgets and goals.

While in-house employees know their companies inside and out, their focus on one company can be both an advantage and disadvantage. Working with a variety of companies, especially those in the same industry, can provide a broader knowledge base and experience with a variety of communications strategies and disciplines.

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