Landmark Case with TripAdvisor, Makes Businesses Think Twice About Reviews

It was announced on Wednesday, September 13th of 2018 that an Italian man would be jailed for nine months for running a business tied to fake TripAdvisor reviews.

Reviews, especially for consumer-based businesses, mean everything… and unfortunately there are too many businesses that are more than willing to circumvent systems to provide fake reviews for products and services. We always highly recommended against using these services, as at the end of the day, it will negatively affect your business. Not only do real customers eventually catch on, but organizations such as TripAdvisor, Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Yelp are all working on solutions to combat such practices. This means that those reviews will eventually fall off, and there could be other ramifications such as fines or banning from platforms completely.

Reviews are increasingly becoming a primary tool for consumers to make daily decisions on what to buy and eat, naturally leading to increased business for businesses with a plethora of positive reviews. Instead of risking long-term gains for short-term with providers offing fake reviews, 3SixtySMB recommends developing a strategy to interact with your customers and work towards getting real, credible customer reviews for the various platforms out there. Strategies can be anything from simply asking customers to post reviews, or offering incentives such as discounts for their honest take on your business.

Real reviews are also an insight into the soul of your business. We find that many disregard reviews with the belief that the customer doesn’t know what they are talking about, or that they as a “business owner” know what is best for the business. However, real reviews are the consumer’s perception of your business (good or bad), and insights like reviews can truly help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of the business in the eyes of your customers. Making adjustments to your business model as you learn about them through your reviews will help increase your overall customer experience and lead to increased revenue over time. We wrote a related article about this not too long ago (There’s A Problem, Stop What You Are Doing).

Finally, ensuring that you are monitoring these reviews in real time also gives a clear line of communication directly to your consumers. As an example, if a consumer had an issue with your business and you did not respond, you could lose a customer for life. Furthermore, they will tell their friends, and their review is now visible for the world to see. This means that one bad review left unaddressed can lead to multiple lost customers down the road. If you have a few bad reviews, you are now taking a significant hit to your business. Addressing issues in a professional and courteous manner can not only change the perception of a customer with a bad experience, but it also shows the world that you take your customer experiences seriously. Furthermore, positive reviews are not to be ignored. Take the time to thank someone that posted a positive review for their business, possibly even offer them a discount on their next trip in. Actions like this create loyal customers, and again, show the workers what type of business you run.

Reviews are truly an inside view to the soul of your business, both for your customers and your organization. Treat customers horribly, and everyone will know! Treat customers well, and everyone will know! Which do you think is better for your business? And when it comes to “paid reviews”, steer clear of them; they could be a path to short-term gains, however they will catch up to you in the long run… Finally, there are many platforms out there (TripAdvisor, Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Yelp), so do not make the mistake of only focusing on one. Where your customers are, you should be there as well!

 

Sales Is A Numbers Game, How To Increase Sales Without Increasing Pipeline

Sales Is A Numbers Game, How To Increase Sales Without Increasing PipelineSales is a numbers game, right? In sales, this is something you are constantly told, typically followed by the need to get more opportunities into the pipeline. This roughly translates to the more opportunities that are in the pipeline, the more business that is likely to close. We do not disagree–sales is a numbers game, but there is another way that game can be played, and that is increasing the close ratio. Here’s the thing, we disagree that the numbers game should always be pushing for bigger pipelines, as it eventually leads to employee burnout and puts unnecessary stresses on your account base. Working to increase the overall close ratio actually creates a more efficient sales team and leads to happier sales reps in the long term. It also has an interesting side effect. It gives organizations the ability to grow their teams in order to grow the pipeline, and it lowers the stresses due to employee turnover as a result of burning out. In this article we’ll share some simple tips that can easily increase your sales close ratio.

To create a more effective team, the first action many companies take is to go directly to organized sales training processes such as Sandler, Miller Heiman, Dale Carnegie, and others. Not a bad route to go, however they all have their special focuses along with their own strengths and weaknesses, and in some cases create an almost robotic workforce (which no one wants, Following The “Sales Taught” Process Isn’t Always A Good Thing). We’ve actually learned, over time, that a combination of the different sales methods works best and gives a team the ability to be more agile and think on their own. Also, these types of structured training tend to be one-time events, and we always encourage continuous learning and development, regardless of how senior the rep (or manager).

Sales is a game of numbers, and at times it truly is the small details that matter, as there are several opposing forces working against each and every deal. Anything from competition, budget, busy schedules, and competing priorities can sideline a deal at any moment, and they do (all the time). When it comes to increasing a close ratio, it is important to focus on the details, as it is the details that truly matter and will get those few extra deals to close. With all of the said, here are a few tips for a more effective sales process:

92% of sales is done via the phone, so it is important to have proper phone etiquette as there is nothing that can turn off a prospective customer more than a call that was painful to have.

  • Avoid speakerphone – Unless you are hosting a call with multiple people on the line, do not use the speakerphone. We find a few issues with use of speakerphones. Typically, speakerphones create an echo or can make voices too loud (or too quite), ultimately leading to difficult-to-hear discussions. Also, speaker phones are usually structured where you can either talk or hear, and not both at the same time. This leads to constantly talking over your prospect or missing important cues that they want to ask a question.
  • Do not talk over people – Unless absolutely necessary, do not talk over anyone on a phone call. It is not only considered rude, but you can miss critical information that your prospect might be trying to share. If done enough times, it will ultimately turn off your prospect.
  • Always use the 70/30 rule – This means your prospect should be doing 70% of the talking, and you should be doing 30% (yes, even in demos). If you find that you are doing most of the talking, stop immediately.

Almost all sales are a result of at least one meeting (and in some cases, several). This essentially means that the way you and your team represent yourselves during those meetings will directly impact your ability to close more business:

  • Send a proper meeting invite – One of the most overlooked items of any meeting is the actual invite itself. Think about how people typically view their calendars and you’ll realize the subject line is the only thing they see. Believe it or not, there are still people that will set up meeting invites with a one-word subject line that means nothing to the prospect. Instead, we recommend a subject line that looks like this: 3SixtySMB | Client Name Review and Feedback of Proposal – Friday 9/8 @ 3pm Eastern… This clearly shows the prospect who they are speaking with, why they are speaking to them, and when. Also, if sharing with internal team members, it serves the same purpose. The invite body is just as important, as you want to clearly state the agenda for the meeting along with dial-in or WebEx information and copy any relevant documentation. This all makes it super simple for your prospects to organize themselves as they hop from meeting to meeting.
  • Do your homework – Never go into a meeting blind… Take time before a meeting to review relevant information such as website, social media pages, individual LinkedIn pages, financial reports, presses, notes, and any other applicable information.
  • Join the meeting 3-5 minutes early  – Always dial in early. Not only does it show you have respect for your client’s time, but it also allows you to address any issues with a dial-in or WebEx which always happens to pop up at the most inconvenient times.
  • Do not book back-to-back meetings – Meetings always run over, and you are just asking for trouble when booking back-to-back meetings. Always allow for at least a 15-minute buffer if possible. If a back-to-back meeting is unavoidable, use a different dial-in for the second call. That way if a call goes late, you don’t have people popping in as you are trying to end your call.
  • Use group chat   When possible, use a group chat with your internal team members. It allows for back-end strategization on the fly during discussions, keeping everyone on the same page.
  • Start with a proper agenda – Take care of roll call, introductions, meeting summary, and open questions before getting started.
    • The most important part of the meeting is how you set the stage, ensuring that everyone is on the same page on the reasoning of the meeting. Too many times people skip this part, only to find out 30 minutes into a meeting that the reasoning behind the meeting changed on the client side or they had a piece of critical information missing that changes everything.
    • Also, if it’s a smaller meeting, try building a bit of a rapport before hopping right into things. A little bonding goes a long way!
  • Actively listen – There is a difference between listening and actively listening because there is a big difference between “what people say” and “how they say it”. Sometimes the nuances are in the way something is said, and those small nuances can be the difference between a won or lost deal.
  • Be present/listen – Seriously, too many people forget the simple concept of being present and listening. Some believe they are listening, but they’re too involved in jotting down notes, or thinking of their next question and are really not present. As a result, they miss things… and nothing will annoy a prospect more than someone that isn’t paying attention to what is being said and they end up asking questions that were answered previously in the conversation.
  • Take detailed notes – Part of listening is taking notes, lots of them… Many believe they can simply remember the fine details. However, after a few hours, those details can be forgotten. These are the details that can make the difference between winning and losing a deal. And of course, don’t be afraid to share these notes with co-workers. This goes back to doing your homework; note-taking and sharing are extremely important to ensure everyone has the most relevant information and is on the same page.
  • Never make assumptions – Too many make assumptions, and those assumptions lead to lost deals. These are assumptions such as believing you know what the client wants, the right people are on the call, budget, and decision-making process… the list goes on. Never make assumptions, and always ask questions to understand unanswered details. Your prospect will respect that you are trying to understand their process, and if they are dodging questions, be wary as that is a sign something is not quite right.
  • Clear next steps – This is a big one… Never, ever end a call without clear next steps and a scheduled call! Nothing kills the momentum of an opportunity more than not having a scheduled next step. People are busy, and your sales opportunity, unfortunately, is not their top priority–almost anything can happen once a call ends. Without a scheduled next step, there is no guarantee you’ll get them on the phone again.  
  • Summarize – Do not forget to summarize what was discussed in the meeting and ask for confirmation. We all hear different things at times, and it is critical to make sure everyone is on the same page before leaving.

Proposal and Contracts:

  • Timing is everything – Don’t sit on the paperwork; get it out the door as soon as humanly possible. During the call, if they give you a deadline of Friday, you get it to them by Tuesday morning. Getting the paperwork out the door early shows that you are on top of your game, but it also combats other outside sources such as buyer’s remorse, competition, or just shifting priorities. Many deals have been lost by one day, just because someone changed their minds due to budget cuts, someone quitting, or a change that was made in corporate priorities.
  • Get their information right – Ensure the company name, logo, address, and their name are all written correctly.
  • Proofread – Typos or mistakes happen, however, ensure you do everything possible to send out paperwork that is clear, consistent, and typo free.
  • File name – Do not just use the file name “proposal” or “contract”–believe me, people do it! Instead, similar to the meeting invite, make the file name something that is self-explanatory. As an example: 3SixtySMB-ClientName-ProjectNameProposal-9-8-2018v2…. This example is very coherent, searchable, and gives a clear understanding of the version.
  • Email subject lines – Again, we have seen people send along agreements and proposals with one-word subject lines. Be clear and concise. Example: 3SixtySMB | Client Name – Proposal for review and signature. With a subject line like this, there is no mistake to what this email is for and it also makes it searchable within an inbox. (searchability is important as, in some cases, people get 100’s of emails and files in a week, so you want your information found easily).
  • Email body – Keep it simple, but do not make it a one-liner… Now is not the time to write a novel, but do spend time explaining the content of the attached paperwork in a summarized fashion, always thanking them for their time, and detailing next steps. We also highly suggest asking for a confirmation of receipt… If they confirm, there is no question that they received it, but if they do not confirm, it gives you another non-salesy follow-up item with them.

Follow-ups:

  • Timeliness – Whether you are following up on a simple request or something from a meeting, it is extremely important that items are sent in a timely manner. Again, similar to what we mentioned around paperwork, timeliness of follow-up items shows that you are on top of your business. No one wants to work with someone that takes days to get out simple items in the opportunity phase. If this is how you treat your prospects, how are you going to treat your customers?
  • Be respectful of their time – When you’re selling, you are on the client’s time, period. As much as we would all like to think that clients need “us”, at the end of the day, they don’t! There are countless other ways of solving their problems such as competition or DIY. This is a serious infraction most management make as they push their sales teams. We’ve seen, in some cases, management pushing their reps for daily or hourly updates on contract signature, and as a result, you have a rep reaching out to their prospects almost hourly. Nothing will piss off a client more! Instead, during your meetings with the prospect, work to get a clear understanding of their approval process, as they typically will share timing and other details with you. Again, if they do not, there could be something up!  
  • Do not follow a dead deal – Too many reps get stuck on that one deal that should have closed, but for whatever reason, it hasn’t. Always do your best to get a yes or a no answer. Too much time can be wasted on a deal that will never close… A great trick if you haven’t heard from a prospect in a while is a “Break up email”–8 out of 10 times, you’ll get some type of response.
  • 4 of 5 touches should be non-sales related – Pretty much no one likes to be sold to; they find sales people too pushy and typically tune them out. A way to break the cycle is to ensure you are finding other ways to add value to your prospects. We typically suggest sending something educational on the space, updates on the industry, or a congrats on a recent award. Anything to help make a stronger connection and add value.
  • Social connections – This goes along the lines of the 4 of 5 touches rule: ensure that you are connecting with your prospects on all social channels. It gives you another level to connect with your prospects and can help get more education and brand awareness to them in a non-direct way. We recently published an article on this: What is Social Selling Really, Six Tips to Social Selling.

General Tips:

  • Constantly keep in contact – Always work to keep in contact with your prospects… it goes along the lines of the 4 of 5 touch rule. As at the end of the day, if you are not top of mind and educating your prospects, someone else is! And when they are ready to pull the trigger, guess who they are going to move forward with?
  • Create a follow-up process – Many deals are lost simply because the rep didn’t follow up after sending the paperwork. Ensure you are respecting their time, but ensure you are staying on top of the prospect and process… Also, if a prospect “tables” a project for a few months, don’t forget about it. Keep in constant contact with them (4 of 5 touch rule applies), and in the timeframe they recommended, ask about the project.
  • Respect the prospect – There have been many times, after finishing up a call, where I’ve heard someone disrespecting a prospect… What is even crazier (I’ve personally seen it happen), is when they start disrespecting a prospect while forgetting to mute their line or hang up properly. Regardless of whether they can hear you or not, your emotions come through in your communications. Treat every prospect as if they are an absolute must win!
  • Fire your prospect – Yes, we did just say treat every prospect as if they are an absolute must win. However, there are occasions where a prospect can and will waste your time. You’ve tried almost every angle and you’re still getting nowhere with a prospect, but they continuously demand more of you. Eventually, it is time to cut bait and move on as some people will always waste time and never buy.
  • Lose gracefully – Just because you lost a deal, it doesn’t mean you’ve lost them forever. Amazingly enough, they can and will come back at some point down the road. We recently published on this: Take A Sales Loss Gracefully
  • Multi-task – No, we do not mean sitting on a conference call while sending emails. We mean ensuring you are working multiple opportunities at once, always following up with prospects, and always staying in contact with your prospects. Too many reps get lost in that one big deal, or sending out as many proposals as possible, and as a result, something falls to the side. You truly need to be working all fronts, all the time.
  • Always treat clients like prospects – There are some fantastic closers out there, and they can close anyone, anywhere. But, unfortunately, they absolutely suck at dealing with clients, and as result, the client leaves shortly after the sale. This cannot only result in a loss of revenue, but it can also damage an opportunity to further upsell or get new clients down the road. The average time someone stays in a role these days is just about three years. Impress your client, and when they move to a new role, you could have another new logo on your hands. Also, people talk… If they have a bad experience with you, you bet they are talking about it with others!

There is a true art/science to the sales process. You are never guaranteed to win a deal, but you can always guarantee that you put your best foot forward, ensuring “you” are not the reason they say no. Every little detail matters! As an exercise, take a look at last year’s closed opportunities and total them up–it typically turns out to be a fairly large number. Now imagine if you could have brought in 10 or 20% of those and what it could have done to your number for the year! In some cases, it is the difference of hitting vs missing a number! To increase sales, you don’t always have to increase pipeline, you only have to do a better job with the deals you have already.

 

Digital Document Management for Small Businesses

Digital Document Management for Small BusinessesYou would not believe how many small businesses still have no true way of managing their documents besides folders, file cabinets, or saving files directly to their computers. If you are reading this and that is how you currently manage your documents, we are truly sorry…. Reasons vary, but still, all too often we come across organizations that have file cabinets full of old sales agreements, invoices, and legal documents. Now, there was a time where paper documents were the most efficient means of storage, but those times are long gone. The cost of digital storage has dropped significantly over the years, and technology has caught up to a point where the ease of use makes the user experience straightforward and easy. Typically, when we run across organizations that are stuck in the world of paper document management, we find there is no real fundamental reason to why they have not shifted to digital, and it more or less just hasn’t been top of mind. In this article we’ll cover some basic strategies for document management in small businesses.

In case you need a justification for moving to a digital document management solution, here are a few points of consideration:

  • Increased file redundancy – Unfortunately when dealing with paper documentation or electronic files, they can get lost or damaged; natural disasters can strike out of nowhere and when this happens, these files are gone forever… We also find in today’s market that there are more remote employees than ever before, and with a paper document management solution in play, these remote employees have essentially zero access to critical documentation. Whether it is a need for file protection or access, almost all digital document management solutions have sophisticated disaster protection and recovery solutions in play, along with robust file access solutions as well. This essentially makes it impossible for files to get lost or destroyed while giving remote employees the access to critical documents.
  • Increased security – When it comes to file storage, your security is only as strong as the file cabinets your documents are stored in, and that’s if you even lock them. Most small businesses take employee trust a little too far and at times leave cabinets to some of the most sensitive corporate information unlocked. With fraud and lawsuits at an all-time high, quite honestly, this is just a vulnerability that should not be overlooked. Today’s solution providers have some of the most strict physical and digital security protocols known to man, ensuring that no one has access to your files unless they are allowed to have access.
  • Document editing – If you manage your company reports via Excel, raise your hand. If you have more than one person working on an Excel, Word Document or PowerPoint, raise your other hand… Almost every company has Excels, Word Documents, and PowerPoints being worked on by multiple people at any given time. Inherently, the way those products are designed, only one person can modify a document at any given time… However, most Content Management Solutions today have created solutions that allow for multiple editors to work on the same document at the same time with full visibility to who is doing what.   
  • Version controls – Similarly, when multiple people are working on the same document, whether printed or in digital format, it is almost impossible to know who made what changes and went or if the document is even the latest version. Again, most solution providers have built in version controls within their solutions to know who made changes and when.
  • Process control – A majority of documents created have a process they must follow. As an example, sales agreements must be created, edited, approved, sent for signature and so on… Typically this is a completely manual process. Typically, sales creates the agreement, forwards to their management for review and approval, management sends the contract back to sales, and sales sends the agreement to their contact. These processes and others are extremely manual, time consuming, and prone to errors… Errors such as someone opening an email, but forgetting to process the document. There are some Content Management solutions that have process controls built directly into them allowing for a more automated and error-free process.

The above are just a few reasons why a digital document management system makes sense, and again, the cost of storage and technology offerings now make a solution more cost effective and easier than ever. As an example, companies such as Microsoft, Google, Dropbox, and others give away storage for free, and most free solutions fit the needs of Small Businesses perfectly. There is also the real risk of documents getting lost or damaged, which when these events happen, means those documents are lost forever! Furthermore, with remote workers becoming more predominant in the industry, there is a real need to give them access to critical documentation at anytime and anywhere.

Setting up a digital content management solution is not rocket science, as again, most solution providers have made solutions extremely user friendly. However, when looking into a digital document solution for a small business, there are a few things an organization needs to consider:

  • Existing paper document digitization – Digitizing file cabinets stuffed with documents going back decades, in some cases, is no small task for any organization. With that in mind, the first thing to consider when going digital is which documents will be digitized and how far back those documents should go, as not all documents need to be digitized. Once a decision has been made, you can either look into a company that provides digitization (which can get costly), or look into another option like hiring a few interns or temp employees to take on the task for you.
  • Folder and file name structure – At the surface, file structure doesn’t seem that important. However, folder and file name structure are most likely two of the most important items to consider up front; a lack of consistency across both can lead to a cumbersome folder and file structure, making it impossible to find documents. This means every department should have a clearly defined folder name and subfolder structure. File names need to be straight forward as well… As an example, a sale contract should be named something such as ClientName-Product-agreement-date.pdf. A folder and file structure should be set up in a way that is completely self-explanatory, leaving nothing to question.
  • Document access controls – This simply means who should have access to what folders and files. Free solutions typically do not have access controls built in, however others do… If going this route, there should be a lot of thought around which departments or employees have access to what documents upfront.
  • Process definition – There needs to be a defined process around who has responsibility for what action, and this process should clearly be communicated with the team. As without a clear process, people will assume someone else is responsible for the process of uploading documents and nothing will get done. As an example, when sales gets in a new signed agreement, who is going to be responsible for uploading the agreement? Sales, Finance, Sales Ops?
  • Signatures – Are they still inked or digital? This is not something organizations think of when first looking into content management, however increasingly, digital signatures are becoming a more efficient way of executing agreements and authorizing paperwork. Digital signature solutions are now extremely cost effective, and if you are moving to a digital content solution, this should be a natural solution to implement at the same time.  

Again, setting up a digital content management solution is not rocket science. However, if proper thought is not put into the planning around the structure and access, things can get out of control quickly, and it is hard to fix once in place. It is also important to keep things as simple as possible and resist the urge to over-complicate the folder and file structure; over-complicating can lead to confusion and difficulty of finding documents when needed and reduce the value of efficiency of a digital content management solution. Some organizations, to save cost, may opt not to use a prepackaged solution and go with a DIY central server and mapped drive solution . This is something we highly recommend against. Although the upfront cost may be lower than a paid solution, the long term risk should outweigh the cost. For instance, there are costs to maintaining the server, the VPN for secured connections, and data backup. But, there are also other risks, such as loss of power or natural disasters that wipe out access to these servers.

Going digital should be a top priority for organizations, as the longer you wait to implement the solution, the more risk you are putting your business in….

 

The Fundamental Change In Today’s Buying Process

Buying CommitteeThe way people buy and sell in today’s B2B market segment is significantly different than the way things were done 10+ years ago. Even though it has been that long, both buyers and sellers continue to struggle with the change… If you’ve been part of the process for longer than 10 years, then you remember the times when someone would commit to a signature, and later that day, a signature would show up on the fax machine. Setting the stage, ten years ago, budgets were assigned to business units and there really was no scrutinization on the way those funds were spent. Meaning, if a CIO wanted to authorize a purchase for new software or hardware, they had the authorization to make that purchase as long as it fit within the budget. Department heads also had their own budget that would fit within their own signature authority, typically requiring little to no oversight for their budget spend. This all translated to one-on-one relationships that could seamlessly conduct purchasing transactions in lightning fast timing… Buying and selling was literally easier back then.

Fast forward to today—the process is drastically different and slower… and the larger the business, the more complex and painful the process has become. No longer do business unit or department heads have the ability to sign off on their own budgets; there are now several new processes and approvals that have been put into place in order to execute a purchase. As an example, budget approval has now shifted from the head of a business unit or department, to the office of the CFO. This means that every purchase not only has to be approved by a business unit or department head, but someone within the office of the CFO must also approve that budget spend. However, the changes haven’t stopped there… Remembering back to times of yesteryear, when a business unit or department head wanted to sign a contract for a purchase, they were usually the ones reviewing agreements for possible legal ramifications. Not surprisingly, receiving redline edits was fairly rare, and in some cases, almost nonexistent back then. Again, fast forwarding to today, essentially 100% of all agreements must now be reviewed and approved by someone within the legal team before execution… Finally, executives that were never part of a decision-making process unless it was of significant size, are also now part of the overview review and decision-making process.

Adding to the new challenge of having multiple people as part of the decision-making process, there are two major issues that come into play: knowledge and timing… Typically, most people within the approval process know little to nothing about what is being purchased. Take for an example a purchase for new marketing software by a CMO within an organization. Now, the CMO knows exactly why they are buying this software and the impact to their business unit, but the reviewers with the CFO, legal, and executive oversight committees most likely no nothing about the software or impact to the business. In a way, they really do not care. The financial reviewer is trying to find out how this purchase fits within the overall budgeting plan for the organization, what the overall ROI /& TCO is, and whether they got the best competitive bid for the solution. Legal wants to understand what type of corporate liabilities live within the use of the software and agreement, and executive oversight is working to juggle this decision with the dozens of others that fall on their plate at any given time… and each one of these oversight committees needs their own time within the process review that can typically take “weeks” per reviewer…

Here is what a typical purchase process looks like today:

  • Manager / Director level initiates buy process
    • Timing: within a few days
  • Head of Line of Business, conditionally approves purchase
    • Timing: few days to a week
  • Finance department reviews and approves purchase
    • Timing: a week to two weeks
  • Legal then reviews / redlines agreement and eventually approves
    • Timing: a few weeks
  • Executive sponsors reviews and approves purchase
    • Timing: a few weeks
  • Signatures
    • Timing: few days to weeks

It is easy to see how a process that once took hours, now has translated into weeks or months… Fundamentally, this is still not fully understood on both the buyer and seller side of the process, creating significant frustration in the buying process for both. Furthermore, each of the individual approvers can and will stop a buying process if they feel like there is a need. As an example, we had been working with an HCM organization that was selling a solution to a major grocer and a verbal agreement for $350,000+ had been made by the head of HR within this grocer. As the agreement made its way through the process, it finally made its way to the CFO… The CFO had no true understanding of this HCM Software, its capabilities and impact to the business, and all they truly wanted to understand was whether they received any competitive bids. In short, the answer was no, and the CFO demanded for additional vendors to be brought in on the process. They had no cares on the prior processes, relationships, and why the organization needed this solution and stopped the approval process dead in its tracks.

This new approval process is the number one reason why a majority of contracts never receive final signature and die… How does one combat this new elongated process and get a purchase approved? First, there needs to be acceptance that the process has changed, and one must do their homework prior to submitting a purchase. Again, it is important to remember that each reviewer in the process has their own criteria they are looking to review. With this is in mind, it is essential to understand what the approval process is, who is part of it, and what criteria they will be reviewing to build a business case addressing each approver. A business case is essentially a collection of information that directly addresses specific criteria each department will be reviewing as part of their approval process. For example, a financial reviewer is going to want to understand things like whether there was a competitive bid, if the price is the lowest available, and what the ROI / TCO is. In short, there needs to be a clear business case that addresses questions such as:

  • Why is this solution needed?
  • What departments are affected by the purchase?
  • How much more efficient will these departments be?
  • What other vendors were considered?
  • What are the legal ramifications? (data ownership, insurance, etc)
  • Was is the total TCO / ROI?
  • With regards to ROI, is there an investment payback period?

Continuing with the major grocer example from above, neither the buyer nor seller had created a business case for the purchase, which ended up not giving the CFO the confidence to move forward and causing a stop of purchase… However, there was a clear business case for the solution, but it just had not been properly communicated up the approval chain. In this case, the buyer brought us into the opportunity as an independent nonbiased 3rd party to speak with the CFO… During our discussions, we were able to properly articulate the business case for the solution along with the overall organizational and financial impact to the business (relating directly to the CFO’s concerns)… Because we spoke the language of the CFO and gave a clear-cut understanding of the value in a language they knew, it allowed them to fully approve the purchase without a need for a competitive bid…

Organizations can continue to struggle through these new organizational approval processes, or they can accept these changes. A strong business case is now required in order for a purchase to move more swiftly through the process and to ensure someone in the approval process cannot kill it… Again, this important for both the buy and sell side, as both parties have something to gain by a smoother approval process.

On a side note, it is also important for sales leadership and executives to understand that the days of pushing for a signature are long gone. Still to this day, we see sales leadership pushing customers needlessly hard for approvals and signatures thinking it will move the ball forward, when in fact, they’re only pissing off both the employees and buyers. Instead, sales leadership should be focused more on helping their team understand this new purchasing process and how to build a proper business case ensuring there is a bulletproof plan in place… Doing this will not only show the professionalism of your organizations, but ensure your agreements move faster through the system and become more likely to get approved. For better for worse, there is a new buying process, and the more understanding of the process there is, the more likely you are to get approval.

 

The Importance of Testing in Marketing Campaigns

Testing Marketing CampaignsThe challenge with marketing in small business, is that you just do not have enough budget and resources to market like the big guys. This can create a challenge when coming up with new marketing campaigns and ensuring those campaigns are yielding the best possible results… Typically in larger organizations, they have budget and resources to develop messaging for campaigns. However, even with their large budgets, market surveys, research, and other methods, the large corporations will have a better understanding of what messages will resonate the most, but at best, they are just more of an educated guess. The only real true way to understand what messaging will yield the best results is to test, then test again, and once completed, do more testing. Testing is the only true way to understand what messaging will produce the best results, and in this article we’ll cover some of the basics for testing messaging and campaign effectiveness.

Analytics Tools – Before anything, you need to get yourself familiar with analytics tools available to your business. Some tools may be free and others will be fee-based. In this article, we’ll focus on the tools available at no cost, because even at their basic levels, free can add significant insight to your campaign effectiveness. Another reason for focusing on these tools is that we find most organizations we speak with are not aware of the analytics built in to the tools they use today.

Here are a few, for example:

E-Mail Software – Most e-mail software will have built-in analytics for tracking open, click, and unsubscribe rates along with other useful metrics.

Social Media ­- Some social platforms have analytics built in to monitor interaction levels. However, even at its most basic level, the easiest way to track social media is to keep track of follower levels from a month-to-month or week-to-week standpoint.

Google Analytics – Google analytics is an extremely powerful free website analytics tool and fairly easy to use and install. Google analytics will give visibility into items, such as which channels are driving website traffic, page click rates, time on page, traffic pattern, and more. Quite simply, Google analytics is one of the most powerful free tools available today.

CRM / Order Entry Systems – Although the most difficult to track, as you are relying on human data entry, these systems still can be effective. A simple question during the sales process like asking how someone found out about your business can yield some interesting results.

Once you have the tools and basic understanding of how they work, it is time to start testing and tracking. Here are a few simple tactics that can be implemented today to start testing campaigns and measuring effectiveness.

Splitting the List – Overtime, your company has hopefully developed a list of newsletter or e-mail recipients—this is a great base of your ideal community. An easy way to test campaign effectiveness is to break the list into equal and random buckets of two, three, or even four different segments. Once these segments are created, the goal would be to try different messaging across the list. The key is to try different structures in your subject lines, content, and content presentation. Tracking how each list performs every month across open, click, and unsubscribe rate will uncover what messaging yields the best results. Each month should be used as an opportunity to implement the changes from what was learned in the prior months and continuing to test new messaging across the different segments. Overtime, you should start to see an increase in overall interaction in your e-mail campaigns.

Social Messaging – Unfortunately without paid tools, Social Media is a little more difficult to track. However, all is not lost as there are still tactics that can be implemented to ensure you are moving in the right direction. Some social platforms, such as LinkedIn, can show interactions of individual posts which can be helpful, but also time-consuming, to track depending on how often posts are made. Instead, we recommend tracking social media on a week to week (or month to month) basis focusing on follower levels and Google Analytics traffic. Tracking follower levels is a great way to see if your messaging is attracting new followers. And by testing messaging and frequency, you should be able see a trend in follower growth. Also, Google analytics is another tool that could be used for this purpose since it can track how much traffic is being sent to your site via each social media platform.

Website Design – Quite possibly the most overlooked aspect of any marketing asset a small business has, is their website. Most tend to look at their website to showcase their products and services, which is a good start. However, we find that after launch, most small businesses leave their website as is and almost never update it or work to make improvements. This day and age, websites are becoming one of the most powerful assets a business can have and could be a full article all on its own. However, for the purpose of this article, we want to focus on the effectiveness of a website from a lead generation perspective. A proper website should not only be a showcase of products and services, but should also be an asset that generates leads (interested buyers) for the business.  Unfortunately, the most traditional ways businesses set up their websites is a simple “Contact Us” page and phone number. While “Contact Us” and phone numbers can generate leads for the business, there are other “calls to action” that can be built into the website to generate additional leads. Calls to action can be tricky, as it is difficult to understand what will compel someone to reach out to the business. Only through tracking lead flow from each call to action and testing messaging, location, and pages will you be able to understand what works best. HubSpot has a few great examples you can view here: https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/call-to-action-examples

Advertising – Small businesses tend to spend a small fortune on all types of advertising and it never ceases to amaze us when we see the exact same ads used time and time again. Depending on how much your business spends on advertising, this could be the single biggest mistake your business is making, period… Why? Much like the theme of this article, how do you know if your ad is actually yielding the best results? Truth is, you don’t! Sure, that ad that has been running the past six years is generating some leads and business, but what if you could double, triple, or quadruple the effectiveness of those campaigns with the same amount of advertising spend you are putting into those ads today? The simple answer is to test different messaging across your campaigns and see what gets the most phone calls or visits to the website. The easiest way to test the effectiveness is to either create custom website landing pages or to track each campaign and see how many submissions you receive. Another way is to simply train your staff to ask how they found out about your business and to track within your order entry system or CRM.

Again, the biggest challenge in marketing, whether you are a small business or not, is that you never know what messaging will actually relate to your ideal consumer to produce the best results. Your business is already spending time and money for marketing, and by testing, you can ensure that time and money is being well spent. Testing is the only way to truly be sure that effort is being put in the right place.

 

 

Target Uses Local Retail Stores As Virtual Warehouses

Over the past few years, Target has become increasingly more innovative to compete against other local brick and mortar stores and Amazon alike… As an example, back in December, they announced a new mobile payments system called “Wallet” that allows customers to quickly pay for items via the mobile application, skipping lines and speeding up the checkout process. Yesterday, Target announced Restock, a nationwide next-day delivery service targeted directly at Amazon Prime Pantry—this is pretty interesting, but not innovative in itself (more of a copycat). What is innovative is that they are essentially using their local stores as a warehouse, and choosing to ship items directly from the store vs. a main warehouse… This method should allow for faster and more cost-effective shipping to consumers, along with taking advantage of millions of dollars of inventory sitting on retail store shelves. As consumers are increasingly shifting to online and more convenient shopping, this shift from Target will allow them to continue to maintain and open new local retail settings while not worrying as much about the impact of in-store food traffic that is causing major retailers such as Sears and JC Penney to close doors at an alarming rate.

This also poses an opportunity for small businesses to think about the way they conduct business as well. Many small businesses struggle with keeping warehouses and retail stores open, as they both typically come with high overhead cost. A strategy similar to what Target has launched, shifting ecommerce delivery from your traditional warehouses to retail shops, may be a more cost-effective path for small businesses that are struggling to keep warehouses open and costs down.

There’s A Problem, Stop What You Are Doing!

http://blog.toyota.co.uk/toyota-manufacturing-25-objects-andon-cordThere is a fundamental problem in businesses today that is absolutely crippling organizations of all shapes and sizes. What is that problem, you ask? It is simply the failure to address critical business problems in a timely and strategic fashion. Most either continue on as if the problem isn’t there, or as we call it “whistling past the graveyard”, or make snap decisions without truly understanding the issue at hand. Sure, it is an over-generalized statement, but it is not far off from the truth of what is happening daily in business. Just look at the retail and restaurant industries, for example. Businesses that have been around for decades, once pillars of industry, are crumbling around us daily. But why? They blame Amazon or millennials, but it ultimately comes down to the fact that these organizations are ignoring critical issues at hand and continuing with their own agendas with the belief they know what is best.

Organizations need to learn how to stop turning blind eyes to these fundamental business model problems while resisting the urge to make snap decisions. Instead, when a critical failure is identified, we suggest something that that is drastically different: stopping everything dead in its tracks. Stopping the process is not an entirely new concept as large manufacturers have emergency production line stops at every station. This allows anyone in the production line (not just management) that spots an issue to immediately stop the production line in its tracks. This then allows the manufacturer to properly analyze an issue and take critical actions preventing large amounts of products to be discarded due to defect, or worse, a defective product making its way to customers. It costs time and money to shut down large production lines, but some manufacturers recognize that quality products and happy customers are more important than the minimal amount of money lost to the down time.

In business, we need to have very similar approaches. Instead of ignoring issues or making snap decisions without analyzing the situation, allow anyone to bring up critical issues and “stop” the process if the situation permits. Then take the real needed time to truly understand the issue at hand and create a strategic approach to a solution. As an example, we look back to one organization we worked with that happened to have quarter over quarter growth, until they didn’t. Quarter over quarter success was met with declining numbers that were starting to add up to significant losses.  At this point in time where most organizations would have put increased pressure on the sales and marketing team to increase their numbers, we did the opposite. We stopped business completely for a few days to understand what the real root cause of the problem was, and we worked to identify solutions. It was found that just before the change in growth direction, this organization had made a number of key leadership new-hires that happened to make seemingly small changes within their teams—changes that had drastic downstream effects. The effect was so significant downstream that it was throwing off the rhythm of production and other organization items. Once we identified the issues at hand, it was easier to create a new strategy for success moving forward and leading to a faster increase of revenue and production once again. Stopping the business at that time was a difficult decision to make, and some disagreed with the decision. However, it allowed the organization to spot the issue and pivot quickly with a new strategy. Ultimately they could have struggled along, pushing harder on sales and marketing for more activity; this could have possibly increased sales slightly, but they would have never addressed the real issue and continued to struggle long-term,

When something is going wrong, think of your business like a manufacturing plant that is continuously churning out bad product. The longer it takes to address an issue, the longer your plant will continue to churn out bad product which will lead to disappointed customers and loss of business money. Stopping a business or a process in its tracks to make adjustments is a very difficult decision to make, but thinking of how much bad product a company is producing should help put into perspective on how stopping process is actually beneficial to the business. History has proven that making snap decisions or turning blind eyes to issues almost never works out—just look at what is happening to the retail and restaurant industries.

 

What is Social Selling Really, Six Tips to Social Selling

What is Social SellingEvery time we read a new article on increasing sales from sales coaches, consultants, or the media, we see them hyping up social selling. This is a great suggestion, as we couldn’t agree more. Why? Because social selling does lead to an increase in sales. Here is the problem: a majority of sales reps and leadership have no clue what social selling really is or how to properly employ social selling tactics. Furthermore, most organizations as a whole have no clue how to sell socially or provide any real training around the topic. So, while everyone is hyping social selling, there is little about how to actually socially sell. In this article, we plan on reviewing Social Selling 101 techniques.

The first thing to understand when it comes to social selling or social media is that this stuff does not happen overnight. Social media is a process that takes time in order to develop a true online presence and impact revenue. We point this out because even at the executive level, we find that social media at its core is not properly understood. This leads to people being quickly discouraged when they do not see immediate results. Social media is an intangible marketing channel as it takes time to build up an online presence, and those results are not as directly trackable as traditional lead generation campaigns. Like TV or magazine advertising for example, it is understood that the ad is making an impression, and that those impressions lead to sales. Unfortunately, it is next to impossible to track which specific ad led to which specific sale. There are tools that can be used for social media that will make tracking of social campaigns easier, but that’s for another article.

How does social selling work? Traditionally, the only way to educate prospects or clients is to be in direct communication with them via phone, email, or face-to-face meetings. Social media breaks into a new dimension of indirect selling. When social media is done properly, it becomes a new channel to educate your prospects about you, your company, products, success stories, and the industry at their own pace. Essentially, it is a new channel for brand education and impressions, which eventually leads to more educated and confident buyers. Another aspect is that people buy from people. Again, you only traditionally interact with your prospects and clients in a very limited window of time, which does not give them time to really get to know you. Social media gives them more exposure to you as a person, and overtime, it helps them become more comfortable with who you really are and builds up a trusted advisor status. It’s all about breaking down the traditional selling barriers.

With all of that said, here are a few tips to get you started:

Choose Social Channels – The first thing to figure out is which channels should be included in your strategy. LinkedIn and Twitter are pretty much a given for most professionals, but then there is Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest. In reality, if your business is heavy B2B, it is best to stick with LinkedIn and avoid the others. If your business is heavily consumer-focused, I’d put more emphasis on channels like Facebook, Instagram, and others. The key is to put yourself into the seat of your consumer to figure out what channels they may be using.

Set Up Social Accounts – This should sound basic, but as a next step, set up social accounts across the different channels you picked. Ensure that usernames are either your real name, a similar variation of your name, or something related to the industry. They need to be professional and convey exactly who you are. Also, this is the time to pick a profile picture that is actually you and a bio that makes sense. Again, people buy from people, so you want your community to know who you are professionally.

Start Following – Avoid following random people that have nothing to do with your industry. Start by focusing on people that are key influencers in the space, competitors, industry news outlets, your account base, and people within your accounts. People buy from people, and the more connected you can be with your industry, prospects, and accounts, the more familiar they become with “you” as a person. The key thing to remember is that this is not a onetime activity. Personally, every time I meet someone new, they get a LinkedIn and Twitter follow request. This is where the time aspect comes into play; you will start out with zero followers, and it will take a while to build up more followers.

Start Sharing – The second step to becoming social is to actually share content… This is also where the rubber meets the road when it comes to “social selling”. The first thing to note when it comes to sharing content is that under no circumstances should you directly message prospect sales pitches, or really anything; this tactic does not work (it pisses people off more than anything). Sharing content on social media should be educational; typically, we recommend sharing content, such as case studies, press releases, marketing content, trade articles, industry news, and other material such as that. The shelf life of a social post is usually minutes within certain channels—once you share content, after some time has passed, the likelihood someone will see it drops significantly. With that in mind, you want to continuously share content. We typically recommend sharing a minimum of 3 – 6 pieces of information a day.

Start Communicating – The third step to social selling is interacting with your connections. This does not mean sending a LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter sales message (as mentioned earlier, this does not work). Instead, read the various feeds to see what your community is sharing. If you see something interesting, Like, Share, or Comment on it. Another option is if you see some news on one of your accounts and/or contacts, you can mention them when you post content. Again, people buy from people, and this just helps bring in the human element back into the picture. There are tools available, such as HooteSuite or TweetDeck, that are free and can help with the monitoring aspect.

Recruit New Departments ­– Social selling is not limited to just the sales team—get other teams involved too. The companies that do it right have executive leadership, marketing, product, and other teams involved as well.

The key with social selling is to actually be social and educational without being a typical sales person. Also, it’s important to note again that social media takes time, and results are not seen overnight. Furthermore, social media is not a one-and-done event. The main mistake we see all too often is someone setting up their various profiles and walking away thinking people will magically come to them. Instead, dedicate a few minutes a day to social media; it truly doesn’t take much more effort than that. There are a few organizational examples to check out, such as @Drift and @HubSpot. They have some of the most socially-minded employees out there, and much can be learned from their use of social media.

One additional note: there is a byproduct of becoming social. It is that you begin to build your own personal brand in the market. The more information you share, the more people will take note. Future employers may take note on how influential you’ve become. Your community also becomes an additional asset that can come into play regarding how valuable a company may believe you are. Plus, social media is not easy, so it shows that you know how to put in effort.

Good luck and message us with any questions and/or tips!

Busy Isn’t Always Productive – 10 Tips To Becoming More Productive

busy-vs-productive-peopleBusy isn’t always productive… Let that sink in a bit.

How many times has someone told you about how busy they are, or how they can’t complete a new task because they have so much on their plates? We hear it all the time, but being busy doesn’t always equate to being productive. It is extremely easy for someone to have the appearance of being busy, but it is actually hard to be productive. In this article, I wanted to share a few tips for converting busy into productive.

Let us first say that there are some people out there that are always going to be “busy” and completely unproductive. No amount of training, education, and guidance will fix their habits; it is their way of life. In these cases, it really comes down to analyzing their work output to understand if they are net positive or negative to the business as a whole. If they are net positive to the business, then great, let them continue to add to the business in their own way. However, if they are net negative to the business, it might be time to remove them from the equation.

With all of that said, there are absolutely some easy steps to becoming productive:

Make a to-do list – A running list of items to do is an absolute must in today’s work environment. It is very rare that someone is working on only one task at any given time; for most, the amount of items needed to be completed is endless. By having a list of items, it allows for a visualization of what needs to be accomplished. This helps with movement from different tasks without taking up additional cycles figuring out what needs to be done next. As an added bonus, it always feels nice to strikeout completed items.

Prioritize – Hate to say it, but not all to-do items are created equal. As a list is created, assign a prioritization to each item as you go along. This will allow for identification of which items to tackle first.

Plan ahead – Use the final minutes of a day to plan the day ahead. Typically, towards the end of the day is when things tend to wind down. Use this time to reflect on the day’s activities of what was accomplished vs items that still need to be completed. Then, work to create a plan of action for the next day for tackling tasks that still need to be completed. This allows for structure in the early morning and helps get a jump start on the daily activities.

Start calendaring – Use your calendar like a daily planner and block out time for accomplishing tasks throughout the day. This allows for structure around items that need the most attention, while giving yourself a virtual timeline for completing each item. One tip: I’ve seen people attempt to do this a month (or months) ahead of time. This almost never works out the way it is intended. Because other priorities come into play over time, only look a day or so in advance.

Group related tasks – It seems like commonsense, but sometimes without taking a step back, you may not recognize the pattern of items in front of you. Grouping similar items together will allow your brain to take advantage of the patterns that begin to emerge, and you will accomplish tasks in a shorter amount of time.

STOP – We’ve all been stuck on a difficult task or something where the answer may not be coming to us. In these cases, instead of banging your head against the wall, stop, move on to another task, and come back to it later. The mind works in mysterious ways, and it will continue to work on the issue subconsciously while you move on to other items.

Limit distractions – Even the best of us can become distracted with e-mails, IM, phone calls, etc. when working on a task that is either time intensive or requires concentration. Turn distractions off: this means close down email, turn off IM, flip your phone over, and close the office door. Distractions cannot always be taken completely out of the picture, but they can absolutely be mitigated.

Work from home – This goes in line with distractions, but sometimes the office in general is distracting, especially with many organizations moving to open concept. When struggling with tasks, sometimes you’re best-served to work from home. Keep in mind that when working from home, you have to be self-motivated, and the home needs to be distraction-free as well.

Keep tabs on breaks – Breaks are a good thing but can quickly become a bad habit. Some people find themselves getting up from their desk to talk to a co-worker, hit the kitchen, or whatever else they can find to take their mind off the task at hand. Taking a break from a project is always recommended, but if you’re taking a break every 15 – 20 minutes, that could be more of a distraction than productive.

Delegate – It’s okay to delegate. Some people attempt to take on tasks that are completely foreign to them, or they overload their plates with too many projects at once. It’s okay to delegate tasks to people that may be better suited for them. At the end of the day, how productive is it taking three hours to complete a task that someone else can do in one?

Busy isn’t always productive, and over time, it can lead to burnout… Furthermore, employees and coworkers can always tell when someone is always “busy” but never really gets anything done. No one wants to get burnt out at their jobs or be known as the person that never gets anything accomplished. The tips we shared above have been proven many times over to help people become more productive… It only takes a few small steps. Have tips of your own, we would love to hear them!