Do You Have Competition? You Need an Ad Budget!

I have talked to hundreds of small business owners throughout my career. I have broken them down into two simple categories:

  1. Businesses that spend money on advertising and grow sales and profits
  2. Businesses that never grow, or just plain fail

At first glance, this may seem an oversimplification. But it highlights a basic fact: to grow your business, people need to know who you are, where you are, and why they should do business with you rather than your competitors.

Occasionally there are articles in the news about start-ups (usually in the tech or online sector) that manage to launch their business without paid advertising. They get articles published about their innovations and get thousands of followers on social media. But all of these businesses have one thing in common: they’ve built a better mousetrap. Their product or service is so unique that it can completely remake a product category or industry.

But here’s the catch. This is almost certainly not a description of your business. You have competitors who are established and serve the customers you want. Your product or service may be new, but you are still competing for the dollars people spend now for a similar product or service. People need to find you.

I know business owners that spend several hours a day on Facebook trying to build a following. This is a great way to stay in touch with existing customers, but a terrible way to find new customers. Facebook is primarily an inbound platform; people have to be looking for you. If they don’t know you exist, Facebook doesn’t help. You need outbound advertising to make yourself visible to potential new customers. Facebook has warned businesses that they will get very little organic reach through posts shared with friends and followers. Facebook is not a charity, they want you to buy advertising to get your message out there.

There are many types of outbound advertising, both digital and traditional. The most important things to remember are:

  1. Don’t spread your ad spend too thin, doing a little bit of everything. It won’t have the impact you’re looking for.
  2. Be consistent with your messaging. Keep it simple and focused.

Research your market and identify your target audience. Then use your ad budget to target them on the media they use. Targeting Millennials? – Go all digital, maybe add some Cable TV if your budget allows. Targeting Boomers and older? Use print, direct mail, radio and broadcast TV. Don’t waste money sponsoring little league teams, using Groupon or buying a single billboard. You won’t get the results you need.

Are You Listening to Your People?

The world is full of brilliant managers. Of course only some are actually brilliant, but all of them are geniuses in their own minds. Be they real or delusional, gifted managers nearly always share a common trait: they are not nearly as smart as they think they are.

In any human endeavor, we learn the most valuable lessons from our failures. The only lesson most of us learn from our successes is simply: I must be brilliant! This is the opposite of insight and is a major cause of managers trying to apply what they learn from past successes more broadly, often producing poor results.

Just because you think you are the smartest person in the room doesn’t mean you can’t learn from lesser mortals. I see this every day working with marketing executives. It starts with their first big promotion. Their bosses and colleagues all congratulate them for a well deserved recognition. Too often they walk away thinking “I have been rewarded for my managerial brilliance. They have recognized what I already knew: I am a rock star! To get to the next level, I need to do more of what I did to get here.” That’s usually when things start to go south.

Genius managers are bad listeners. They have so many “great” ideas (mostly their own, but some appropriated without attribution) in their heads that there is no room for outside input, particularly from subordinates. They have a grand vision of where to take their team and that vision is theirs…and theirs alone. They have no intention of sharing the glory of their successes with the worker bees.

Employees that are ignored don’t feel part of a team, and thus are not invested in the team’s success. They feel undervalued. Remember the rule: employees don’t quit companies, they quit bosses. Want to build a great team? Learn to listen.

B2B Product Marketing: Is Customer Experience Driving the Bus?

B2B Marketing is still an evolving specialty. Traditionally, people that aspire to a career in marketing mostly choose the much larger B2C space, working for the likes of P&G and PepsiCo. Marketing to businesses certainly is a different process and customer dynamic than marketing to consumers. But fundamentally, all B2B buyers are also consumers. B2B marketing can learn much from their more mature B2C brethren.

In most B2C product marketing, the key driver is Customer Experience (CX). Marketers do extensive research to gain deep knowledge of consumer preferences and behaviors. Then new products and product line extensions are developed based on these research findings.

On the other hand, B2B product marketers often have small or non-existent research budgets and end up designing products and services based on limited information, like anecdotal contacts with customers and trade show attendees.

Business product marketers must develop strong ties to their company’s Sales and Sales Training departments and staff. Salespeople are on the front lines of customer interaction at the moment of purchase. They know exactly what customers want, what they don’t like and how they perceive value. Sales trainers can tell marketers which are the products and policies that reps struggle with; where problems occur in the post-sale fulfillment process; and why reps are selling some products/services and not others.

Marketers should ride on sales calls with reps, attend training classes and experience these interactions first hand. They should also ride on service calls and sit with new customer on-boarding staff, CSRs and tech support personnel, listening and observing to live customer interactions.

The goal is to build a complete understanding of the customer experience over the life of the relationship. Equipped with this data, B2B product marketers can build products and services that delight customers, are understood by the company’s employees and create strong long-term relationships.

The Gamification of B2B Sales

When I started in B2B sales after graduating college, I sold payroll services. I later migrated to selling software/hardware turnkey IT solutions to the SMB sector. In 1978 I got my first sales manager job and worked my way up from there. Back then, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, B2B sales management operated on a pretty simple model. The core assumption: reps need two kinds of motivation, money (commissions and bonuses) and recognition (trips and awards.) Managers spent a few days a year planning out an annual “Presidents Club” trip for quota busters, and designing some plaques and certificates. That was it. Life was simple.

Starting in the late 1990’s and gaining momentum rolling into the 21st century, a new model of B2B sales management began to evolve. This new approach said, in essence, that commissions, annual trips and plaques aren’t enough to motivate 21st century sales professionals. They need to be continuously stimulated with games, competitions and contests year ‘round. The world is a highly competitive place, and management must adapt. Companies started copying the Dotcom formula: Foosball tables, air hockey, and beer and pizza celebrations at the office on Fridays.

Managers started spending a lot more time creating, designing and tracking contest results. One big annual trip becomes 3 or 4 (long weekend) mini trips. Quarterly and monthly contests are supplemented by weekly and daily competitions. Prizes may be cash, but often are merchandise, catalog gift certificates, restaurant and retailer gift cards, etc. Sales management is also bringing Gamification to sales conferences and training sessions, making every part of a salesperson’s professional life organized around competition: peer vs. peer, team vs. team, region vs. region, etc. Sales conferences are no longer boondoggle R&R trips, but rather highly structured, informational, training and role play sessions that feed reps’ competitive spirit. Welcome to Sales Boot Camp!

The underlying assumption to all this is that money and recognition is not enough. That the sales floor must constantly maintain a sense of urgency, that today’s sale is more valuable than tomorrow’s, because you got numbers on the board 24 hours sooner. Some companies have even created apps and Salesforce.com plug-ins to automate the process of running and managing sales competitions, as covered in this recent article in Inc. Magazine: http://www.inc.com/bob-marsh/salespeople-thrive-off-competition-so-up-their-game.html

All of this is part of the cultural shift in professional B2B sales that started during the Dotcom boom of the late 1990’s. This gamified approach to B2B sales management has now spread to other vertical markets, particularly those centered on providing turnkey solutions to the SMB market in crowded, highly competitive industries.

Sales management must continue to change and adapt with the times…a necessity to keep your business competitive.

How Do Sales Reps Bring Value to The Client Relationship?

Traditionally, B2B sales reps, particularly premise reps meeting clients face-to-face, have relied heavily on “relationship selling.” In this model, the salesperson is focused on building deep, long term, personal relationships with customers, leveraging that connection to produce a steady stream of sales over many years. Buyers bought based on personal connections and rep “likability”, since all major product/service alternatives were viewed as the same, with the relationship serving as the differentiator. Products and services were sold using a feature/benefit approach, where features of the product were tied to specific benefits to the buyer’s company.

Then in the eighties and nineties, the concept of feature/benefit selling was eclipsed by books like Neil Rackham’s SPIN Selling, which introduced the concept of the Discovery Call, where the rep would ask the client questions about their business and achieve the customer’s buy-in to the proposed product or service. This approach embraced the concept of the Complex Sale, where the client’s buying process involved multiple approval levels across multiple departments. Clients were not expected to make an immediate decision, but were instead provided by the rep with all the information the buyer needed to drive a favorable decision through the purchase process.

Around that same time, Miller and Heiman introduced Strategic Selling, which further evolved the concept of consultative selling, where products and services became “solutions”. This approach required an ever deeper dive into the client’s business, and different buyer profiles that the rep needed to identify and formulate a selling strategy based on how the buyer approaches the evaluation and selection process. Again, the underlying assumption was that the decision process would take weeks or months due to the buyer’s requirements for multiple levels of approval.

Solution selling is a big improvement over mere relationship sales, in that the rep actually brings value to the customer by educating them on how their products and services will improve the customer’s business. But much of the data required to formulate this solution comes from an exhaustive discovery process that puts the onus on the customer to research and respond.

In 2011, Dixon and Adamson published The Challenger Sale, which shifted the responsibility for information collection to the sales rep’s company. In this model, the rep’s marketing department researches the client’s industry exhaustively (prior to rep contact) to develop valuable insights into the issues that face owners and managers in the client’s sector. This eliminates the need for the customer to undergo an extensive discovery process and instead boils the rep’s value proposition down to a few key insights.

In the Challenger model, the sales rep becomes a trusted advisor that provides valuable insights to clients about issues and obstacles to the client’s success about which they are likely unaware. This is the key: providing the customer with previously unknown critical insights. It answers the old customer challenge of “tell me something I don’t already know.” The Challenger element comes into play when clients push back on the rep’s claims, questioning their relevance to their business. Equipped with solid industry research, the rep can state authoritatively that delaying implementation of their proposed solution will unequivocally result in lost sales, higher costs, increased turnover, or whatever key metric applies to the solution.

In short, a Challenger trained rep brings real value to the client relationship, making it more than worth the client’s time to meet. The sales process is shorter, simpler, takes less of the customer’s time and delivers tangible benefits to the client’s business.

Why the SEO Marathon is Worth the Time and Money

Customers often tell us that they want to have their company appear on page 1 of results on Google, Yahoo and Bing. By using search engine marketing (pay-per-click), we can make that happen practically right away. Meanwhile, we begin the long term effort to get the customer higher on organic search results through search engine optimization, known as SEO. The ultimate goal: to get the customer at or near Page 1 on the search engines, and more importantly, to keep them there.

Many independent website developers take a “one and done” approach to SEO by loading site content with keyword phrases, HTML meta tags and a handful of inbound links, add a WordPress plug-in or two and consider SEO a done deal. Will this, help? Sure, a bit. But if the customer is in a highly competitive space like plumbing, personal injury law, pizzerias, bars, salons, car dealerships or one of the dozens of other businesses with hotly contested keyword phrases, one and done SEO doesn’t make it happen.

Improving a customer’s SEO rankings in highly competitive business segments is a marathon. Doing it right requires that the SEO program be managed by a highly skilled SEO specialist. SEO pros go through multiple in-depth search engine certification exams and must recertify frequently. They monitor customers’ rankings closely and frequently test different advanced SEO tactics, including:

  • Site Indexation & Accessibility
  • In-Depth Keyword Research
  • Advanced Link Building from popular, authoritative sites
  • Frequent updates of substantive, high quality, relevant content
  • Advanced Tags
  • Speed and Performance Optimization

SEO experts test these and many other tactics and measure their effectiveness over time, using sophisticated analytics. SEO pros conference with business customers regularly, to discuss what’s working and develop new strategies that fit the customer’s business objectives.

The goal is to achieve dominant positions in search engine results and maintain them long term. If being found online by prospective customers is your business goal, you need a real SEO pro to get you there…and keep you there.

How Facebook’s Changing Demographics and Privacy Policies Affect Advertisers

A recent Pew Research survey validated a trend that many have suspected. Teenagers are abandoning Facebook by the millions. They hate the fact that their parents, grandparents and other adults are joining, making Facebook uncool. They complain about friends’ over-sharing, and about too much “drama” on the site. And they’re increasingly flocking to other social platforms, such as Twitter, YouTube, Vine, Tumblr and Reddit.

Meanwhile the 35-54 and 55+ demographics are becoming increasingly concerned about Facebook’s constantly changing privacy policies. Facebook users of all ages are aggravated about having their profile pics used to endorse brands and products they’ve “Liked”, without permission or compensation.

Facebook refuses to join the Digital Advertising Alliance, which sets the ad industry’s standards for user privacy. Large advertisers like to see industry standards written into their advertising contracts and generally avoid non-compliant media, because of the perceived increased risk. Advertisers are recognizing that Facebook’s dubious privacy practices are driving their targeted consumers to other, more secure sites.

Facebook’s core following of over-sharers (Millennials, mommy bloggers, etc.) that spends several hours on Facebook every day, dramatically skew “average time on-site” statistics. Hundreds of millions of casual users that post rarely but visit Facebook occasionally to check up on friends and family don’t build the kind of behavioral footprint that advertisers need for effective targeting. Facebook’s constantly changing privacy policies harm advertisers by discouraging updates and shares by casual users that allow advertisers to build targeting profiles.

Millennials and over-sharers in general are notoriously unconcerned with privacy. Perhaps Facebook will evolve into a social platform for these groups. Meanwhile teens in search of something fresh and cool, and boomers and Gen Xers in search of better privacy protections migrate to social networks that better suit their needs.