What Type of Marketing Cry-Baby are You?

conflict-resolutionWhen a client complained to me recently about the difficulty of competing against larger companies, I had a flashback to when my kids were in grade school. Often, when they complained a whiny manner (with or without tears), I’d start singing one particular verse of the well-known kids’ song, “The Wheels on the Bus.”

As my kids started to whine, I would sing:

“The babies on the bus go wah, wah, wah

Wah, wah, wah…wah, wah, wah

The babies on the bus go wah, wah, wah

All through the town.”

As my kids whined louder, I would sing louder. And they would eventually storm away, totally frustrated. Over time, my kids got the message that I had zero tolerance for Cry-Babies. Eventually, I would only have to sing an extended warm-up note of the song (“The…..”), before they would stop whining and walk away.

As an abusive but somewhat responsible parent, I usually tried to have an “adult conversation” with the offending Cry-Baby to resolve the underlying problem, but only after the whining had stopped.

Over the course of my business career, I’ve run into several grown-up “Marketing Cry-Babies.” Whenever they start to whine about marketing-related challenges, I’m always tempted to begin singing the “babies on the bus” verse, but career risk and loss of client revenue serves to made me think twice.

Here are the 3 most common types of behavior exhibited by Marketing Cry-Babies. See if you fit into any one (or all) of these categories:

The “I want it NOW!” Cry-Baby: This marketer demands instant gratification. To him, marketing is a casino, complete with slot machines, craps tables and roulette wheels. With money to spend, he jumps from game to game – feeding the slots, placing chips on spaces – hoping to hit the jackpot. He doesn’t remain very long at any game, and believes that if he plays them all, he’s entitled to win something. When he runs out of money or grows tired of not winning big, this Cry-Baby will leave the casino angry or disappointed that his marketing “investment” has failed to pay off.

“I want it NOW!” Cry-Babies don’t understand that long-term strategy and tactical consistency are the most critical aspects of marketing success. My adult conversation with them goes like this: None of the “games” in the marketing toolkit – publicity, advertising, social media, videos, conferences, newsletters, blogging, direct mail, etc. – either individually or collectively will ever deliver an immediate jackpot. To be a consistent winner in the marketing casino, you need to really understand the risks and potential rewards of all the games; only play those games with odds that are in your favor; commit to playing those games long enough to win; and be willing to change how you’re playing the game – rather than walking away – if you are not winning.

The “It’s All About ME.” Cry-Baby: This marketer believes clients and prospects have a genuine interest in her company’s ideas, experience, success, etc. So the firm’s public-facing materials and “thought leadership” are promotional and self-serving. White papers and editorial content are poorly disguised sales pitches, and offer no helpful information or insights. Lots of time is devoted to winning industry recognition; far less time is invested in managing the customer experience or supporting the sales force.  This Cry-Baby can’t understand why all her marketing activity doesn’t improve revenue or client retention.

“It’s All about ME.” Cry-Babies don’t appreciate that clients and prospects aremost interested in how you can help with their particular problem or opportunity. My brief adult conversation with them goes like this: Clients and prospects don’t really give a hoot about your white papers, industry awards or client list. You need to learn what they need, how they think, and why they’re frustrated or optimistic. That effort demands two-way conversations, and direct market engagement. Based on those insights (which can change with great frequency) you’ll need to (re)direct all of your marketing efforts to resonate in their world, and not yours.

The “That’s Just Not Fair!” Cry-Baby: This marketer is convinced that the cards are stacked against him. There’s never enough money in the budget. The competition can’t be beaten.  Management doesn’t understand marketplace dynamics. Sales reps don’t know how to convert their leads. This Cry-Baby always has a reason for marketing’s lack of success, and lots of excuses not to try harder (or at all.)

“That’s Just Not Fair!” Cry-Babies are either afraid to fail, or afraid to succeed. Either way, they are hard-wired to whine, and often not worth having an adult conversation with. But here goes anyway: Having money to throw at marketing does not ensure success. Larger competitors can have greater bureaucracy that slows marketing momentum, and too many chefs in the marketing kitchen that dilute strategies and tactics. Big firms can get complacent, and be afraid to try new solutions. Regardless of budget or existing brand recognition, smaller firms can always gain competitive advantage through creativity, tenacity and a burning desire to steal the lunch from competitors, regardless of their size or reputation. Being the underdog can be a marketing asset; but you need to give people some good reasons to root for you.

There is some recourse, however, for all types of Marketing Cry-Babies who insist on whining. They simply need to spend more time on the golf course, where that behavior is always appropriate, and where you’re encouraged to attach a “crying towel” to your bag. Fore!

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Why Your Fund Marketing Strategy Isn’t Working

helpIn manager selection, most investors will look beyond your fund’s track record and give weight to organizational factors that provide them with confidence that the business is well-managed and likely to succeed long-term.

If your strategy and marketing efforts have qualified your fund for an investor’s short list of candidates, then business management factors can either close the deal or disqualify you from further consideration. And with so many funds competing for attention, investors are always looking for any reason to bump funds off their “watch” list.

Like all types of business, your fund’s organizational strength is based on tangible and intangible factors related to the quality of its leadership, the consistency of its operational disciplines and the depth of its customer focus.  On a more granular basis, here’s what those 3 factors entail:

Quality of Leadership: Investors Bet on the Jockey

  • Articulating the Vision…This task is far more complex than sticking a mission statement in a pitch deck or website; it’s a belief system that drives the business. According to Fast Company magazine co-founder, William C. Taylor, leaders at high performing companies are “able to explain, in language that is unique to their field, and compelling to their colleagues and customers, why what they do matters and how they expect to win.” Taylor claims leaders who think differently about their business invariably talkabout it differently as well. Your fund must “talk the walk” to inspire and convince internal and external audiences.
  • Building the Culture…A company’s culture is shaped by how its leadership “walks the talk,” and has a great impact on organizational health and longevity. Some businesses succeed financially in spite of a poisonous or opaque internal culture, but never reach their full potential because the people who work there are not truly engaged. Beyond depicting the traditional org chart, your fund needs to explain to investors how it manages human capital, and must demonstrate how it fosters transparency, communication and teamwork.
  • Thought Leadership…This overused marketing term is typically associated with blog posts and publicity. But bona fide thought leadership is less about self-promotion, and more about acting as a serious student of one’s own professional discipline; whether that be asset management or auto mechanics. Your fund must demonstrate that it’s much more than a one-trick pony with a smart investment formula. Investors want to engage with people who are constantly exploring new ideas and better approaches in their pursuit of excellence.

Operational Discipline: Investors are Business Detail Junkies

  • Working ON the Business…Most business owners are so focused on working AT the businesses (i.e., managing the fund), that they fail to create or properly manage all the internal disciplines necessary for the enterprise to succeed. More importantly, according to Michael Gerber – author of “The E-Myth: Why Small Businesses Don’t Work and What To Do About It” – your fund’s intrinsic value and ability to survive is based on how well it has defined, documented and perfected all of its internal systems and methods. There’s a reason why McDonald’s french fries taste the same in all of its worldwide locations: they constantly work ON the business of sourcing, preparing, cooking and serving french fries.
  • The Outsourcing Challenge…For many businesses, the outsourcing of middle and back office operational functions can make great economic sense. But investors need to know that your fund isn’t simply a “virtual” business composed of a contractual network of various 3rd party providers. If your fund outsources any critical business functions, it needs to assure investors that you (not the outside providers) are 100% accountable for those functions. More importantly, your fund must demonstrate rigorous internal disciplines for oversight that ensure the accuracy, timeliness and quality of all outsourced functions.

Depth of Customer Focus: Investors Need to Like You

  • Accessibility/Affability/Ability…These “Three As” of consultation, taught for decades in medical schools, have application across all service businesses, including fund management. Every type of customer – whether they’re shopping for legal representation, tax advice or portfolio alpha – is influenced as much by your likeability as they are by your college degree, your fancy office or your IQ. Irrespective of its track record, if your fund (as individuals and as an organization) doesn’t come across as friendly, easy to work with and professional, investors are unlikely to explore a relationship. Ego and attitude can be brand liabilities for any business, and fund managers who display those personality traits risk losing out to competitors who may be less talented, but far more likeable and marketable in the eyes of investors.
  • Managing Customer Experience…Many funds don’t even think of investors as customers, but rather as potential beneficiaries of their market insight, trading genius or financial returns. This stilted point of view is often reflected in how those funds communicate and behave, both with prospective and current investors. But the most successful funds understand that investors are people, regardless of the size of the institutions they represent, and that nurturing personal relationships matters. Your fund would be well-served by following the advice of Bruce Temkin, founder of The Temkin Group, and a recognized authority in customer experience, who suggests that all companies:
  • Focus on your customers’ needs, even when internal priorities push them to be ignored.
  • Orient your thinking on customers’ journeys, even when the organization cares about individual interactions.
  • Design for customers’ emotions, even when success and effort are often the better understood parts of an experience.
  • Develop innovative ways to treat customers, even when the status quo seems to be good enough.

Selling performance alone is a dead end for funds, and is the #1 reason why fund marketing strategies fail.

Increasingly, investors are more interested in how funds create and sustain a successful business enterprise. To build a company that provides investors with the confidence to put capital at risk, fund managers must be held to the same high standards of leadership, operational discipline and customer focus that private and public companies face in seeking to attract equity investors.

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Two Words That Can Make or Break Your Career

thank you

In the business world, just about everything you do can influence your success. The way you dress. The language you use. Personal grooming habits. Your manners. Sense of humor. Writing ability. It’s a very long list.

Your career path is loaded with opportunities as well as land mines, involving a host of factors that are often totally unrelated to your professional capabilities, and largely associated with your attitude and how you treat others.

In large measure, your success is based on the ability to recognize and demonstrate appreciation for the assistance and kindness of other people, who may be inside and outside of your company.  “Thank you” can be the two most powerful words in your career.

A few years ago, a former business associate asked if I would set up a “networking interview” for his best friend’s daughter, who was a recent college graduate exploring career opportunities in marketing. I arranged for the young woman to meet with a very senior marketing executive at a well-known firm, who as a favor to me spent considerable time counseling the college grad. The Cliff Notes version of this incident ends with neither my friend thanking me for arranging the interview, nor the young woman thanking the senior marketing executive for her time. I felt abused by my friend’s lack of courtesy to me, as well as embarrassment by the young woman’s failure to thank the senior executive who did me the favor of seeing her. It was a double whammy that left me wondering why I bothered to help.

Over the course of my career, I’ve been both pleased and disappointed by the ability and inability of people – well known and hardly known – to thank me for a kindness. And in all cases, perhaps unfairly, I’ve drawn long-lasting conclusions about their professionalism and character as a result of their behavior.

Although I’m confident that I’ve also failed on occasion to say “thank you” to someone deserving of my appreciation, the failure of others to acknowledge a favor has made me much more aware of the importance of the gesture. In my ongoing quest to make saying “thank you” an ingrained habit, here are a few of the things I’ve learned:

Thank people for everything:  Most importantly, thank people for their time, even if it’s a 5-minute conversation. I’ve never understood corporate managers who consciously withhold praise and thanks from people, as part of some strange Pavlovian approach to motivation and performance.  People need to know that they are valued, and when it comes to thanking them, “less is more” makes little sense.  If your appreciation is appropriate, genuine and frequently expressed, then people at every level of the corporate ladder – from the kid in the mail room, to the bigwig in the corner office – will be much more likely to view you as someone they want to help in the future.

It’s never too late to thank someone:  Ideally, an immediate response has the greatest impact, because it shows you’re truly engaged in the relationship and focused on needs other than your own. But we all have busy lives, and it’s very easy to overlook gestures that are deserving of a “thank you.” Compounding the oversight, if some time has passed since the gesture, we’re often too embarrassed to reach out to thank the individual, fearing it will reflect poorly on our manners. The opposite is true. Even if your “thank you” has been overdue by weeks, months or years…it may have greater impact on the recipient, because it demonstrates that their kindness was not quickly forgotten. (Make sure you apologize for the delayed response, and skip the excuses.)

How you thank people counts a lot: Common sense dictates whether your “thank you” is performed in real-time, after the fact, or both. Aside from timing, the method you use to thank someone is very important. “Normal course” appreciation protocol (not involving gifts, tickets to events, etc.) usually is accomplished by voice, email or snail mail; which is often the rank order of the thank you’s perceived value.

Your “thank you” method can be more important than the message itself. One very large law firm in New Jersey, for example, ranks its job candidates this way, following their interview: No written “thank you” = Eliminated as Candidate. An Emailed “thank you” note = Considered for Position. A hand-written, mailed “thank you” note = Preferred for Position. This successful law firm understands that lots of people can do well in law school, but very few people have the empathy, social skills and professionalism – demonstrated by their taking the time that’s required to write and mail a personalized note – that will resonate with their clients and reflect well on the firm’s brand reputation. (Don’t let terrible handwriting preclude you from this opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Either use block printing, or engage the assistance of someone with legible handwriting.)

Very often, it’s the little things in life, and in a business career, that can make an enormous difference. Expressing thanks is a small gesture that always counts, because it’s more than a superficial courtesy. Your ability to say “thank you” reflects an unselfish personal value system, and signals to others that you are someone worth knowing and helping.

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Time to Kill Your Company’s Zombie Blog?

zombieWhen pressed to explain why their company has a blog, many CEOs will admit they were either pushed by marketing counsel to create one, or believed they needed a blog because their competitors have them. Few CEOs understand the purpose of a blog, and most members of that small group are not convinced that their blog delivers any tangible value.

CEOs and marketers who are currently deciding whether to establish a company blog might consider these 3 reasons to forget the idea altogether:

  • You’re not convinced there’s a connection between your blog and your business objectives.

The intranet is a graveyard of dead company blogs, representing well-intentioned, half-baked and underfunded efforts to benefit from content marketing. Many of those blog casualties represent efforts to “put a toe in the water,” as a means to determine whether the company should make a serious, long-term commitment to a blog.

Unfortunately, a blog is much like a marriage, but without dating in advance of a commitment. First, you must conduct due diligence, then you make a long-term commitment…for better or worse. Many blog failures, in fact, are the result of reluctant brides (doubting CEOs) who are willing to give conditional or temporary approval to proceed, which often serves as sufficient rope for the marketing department to hang itself.

CEOs and their marketers are best served, and their blog is most likely to succeed, if senior management understands its function, benefits and limitations, and is 100% committed to a very long relationship.

  • You’re unwilling to provide your blog with the necessary resources.

A sizeable number of dead and useless blogs are doomed to fail because they lack the economic and human resources required to create and sustain an effective corporate blog.  Unfortunately, the typical blog development strategy consists of these 3 steps:

  • The IT Department will add a new “blog” page to the website.
  • Content creation will be an internal group effort, with people / departments taking turns contributing blog posts on a regular basis.
  • The Marketing Department will manage the content creation process, suggesting topics and prompting individuals to contribute their posts according to a schedule.

Three months later, the Marketing Department grows tired of hounding would-be content contributors, and management is not seeing the expected increase in lead generation or even website traffic. Posting frequency drops from weekly to monthly to quarterly. The corporate blog gradually becomes an internal albatross and an external brand liability.

CEOs and their marketers are best served, and their blog is more likely to succeed only if senior management allocates the resources to hire or engage the editorial horsepower necessary to produce high quality content on a consistent basis that:

  • Supports the value proposition and related core messages
  • Engages target audiences
  • Is associated with measurable business goals
  • Strengthens brand stature

Lacking the proper resource allocation (which does not mean simply adding blog management to marketing’s plate), and not making specific individuals accountable for its success are two ways to guarantee your blog’s failure.

  • You don’t have a well-defined content marketing strategy, or you’re unwilling to stick to it.

Even with management’s full support and proper resource allocation, many blogs become editorial Zombies: moving and breathing, but with no heart and soul, simply sucking the lifeblood out of their corporate hosts.

Without an intelligent content marketing strategy that’s directly related to your company’s brand positioning, competitive landscape and sales initiatives, your blog wastes corporate resources and represents an opportunity loss. If blog activity is not driven by a strategic plan and editorial calendar that’s endorsed by senior management, and if your blog agenda is usually based on a frantic search for content – from any source, and regardless of its relevance – then your blog is one of the living dead on the internet.

CEOs who understand the power of an effective blog, and who have the backbone to support content marketing as a viable means to advance the enterprise, deserve to be rewarded with a program that delivers bona fide thought leadership and market engagement; not a constant stream of repurposed news items, self-serving photos from the company’s latest mud run, or press releases and job postings that your customers, prospects and referral sources will never care about.

If your company has already created a Zombie blog, and is unwilling to take the steps necessary to bring it to life, then it’s time to drive a stake through its heart. Just take it down. No one will miss it. And your company’s internal harmony, balance sheet and brand reputation will all benefit as a result.

 

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Facing the #1 B2B Deal-Killer: “Do You Have Any Clients Just Like Me?”

In new business development efforts, B2B firms of all types are often challenged by prospective clients with this question: “Do you have any experience working for companies in my industry?”

Very often, the answer to that question can be a deal-killer for B2B firms without an appropriate client list or some other means to demonstrate industry-specific credentials.

Lacking the proper “just like me” credentials, some firms will argue that the skills and experience they currently possess can be applied across all types of industries. And although this may be true, that response typically fails to convince the prospect, and can even backfire. Because most companies believe their situation and the challenges they face are unique, suggesting otherwise usually will end the sales process.

Short of a firm merger or hiring an individual with the experience in a targeted industry, there are a few ways that professional services firms can gain business outside of the constraints of their current industry credentials. For example:

  • Recast Your Value Proposition: Take an inventory of your firm’s experience and capabilities, and identify those elements that are likely to address the current needs and opportunities of the industry you’re seeking to break into. By re-casting your public facing materials, or creating new marketing collateral and thought leadership that’s focused on your target industry, you can establish a baseline level of credibility that serves to offset the lack of actual client work in that field.
  • Seek Expertise in Individuals: Your firm may not possess the desired industry credentials, but some of your employees might. Ask all of your associates if their professional experience includes work either for or with companies in a targeted industry, and “borrow” those credentials, with their permission. Prospects often don’t care where your firm has gained the requisite industry knowledge, as long as they are confident that it exists.
  • Engage Freelance Talent: There are plenty of freelance practitioners with deep credentials in your target industry who are willing to lend their credibility and expertise to help make a sale, if they stand to benefit from the transaction. This is also a way to test the business potential of a new industry vertical without hiring an employee.
  • Earn Your Credentials: If you’re serious about breaking into a new industry, you’ll need to become a student of what makes it tick: the economics, the core issues, the competitive landscape, and how it is currently being serviced by your peers. This means following trade journals; reading relevant books and academic research; attending leading conferences and trade shows; studying the opinions of its thought leaders; talking to people who are considered “experts” in that field; and contributing comments and questions in relevant online / offline industry platforms. Chances are that this work will eventually generate insights, discussions and relationships that foster tangible business engagements in that industry.

What’s important to remember is that, regardless of the target industry, your credentials are only one part of the sales process. Once you overcome the “clients just like me” hurdle, the prospect will be more interested in how you intend to address their specific problem or opportunity. And that’s where you should work to direct the conversation.

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Why Donald Trump Will Succeed as a “Know Nothing” Candidate

At the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787, America’s founding fathers wrestled with how our young nation would govern itself. Those deliberations – shaped by political intrigue and diverse personal agendas – included creation of the government’s executive branch.

The world has changed dramatically since 1787, but the roles and responsibilities of the nation’s chief executive have remained the same.

Over the past 228 years, the nation has grown from 13 colonies with under 4 million people, to 50 states and nearly 323 million citizens.  War was waged with muskets and cannons at close range targets; today drones and laser-guided missiles take out enemies on the other side of the world. The federal government employed 1,000 nonmilitary workers; today we have nearly 3 million federal employees in 15 departments, 69 agencies and 383 nonmilitary sub-agencies. News and information often took days and weeks to reach the first president; now it’s delivered almost as it happens, and Americans expect immediate solutions from its chief executive.

In a world that Jefferson, Adams and Hamilton would no longer recognize, America has outgrown the office of the presidency they designed.

In 2015, no single individual – regardless of experience, I.Q. or political savvy – is capable of understanding and managing effectively the nation’s complex domestic and foreign affairs, while simultaneously acting as its commander-in-chief, cheerleader, comforter and ceremonial leader. The traditional role of the American president, modeled in part after the British monarchy, is an anachronism.

Into this moment in American history – where the president’s job is far too vast and its citizenry increasingly frustrated with Washington’s lack of results or accountability – enters the bombastic Donald Trump: an established worldwide brand name carefully crafted to be associated with financial success and getting deals done. He’s a man long on politically incorrect opinions and short on details behind his ideas, whose greatest gift involves saying what many people are only thinking.

Mainstream Republicans and other detractors waiting for the Trump juggernaut to implode when the presidential campaign enters its “explain your political platform” phase are certain to be disappointed.  Facts and details will not be the Achilles Heel of the man in the empty $5,000 suit. Americans already understand that the Trump brand may be built on smoke and mirrors, but they don’t care about his plans or details because of politicians’ broken promises in the past. The political system’s failure has legitimized Trump’s candidacy.

When it’s time to show his cards, Trump’s political platform will be simple, straightforward and consistent with his brand positioning.  To avoid details and deflect criticism, his campaign strategy will be built largely on promises to appoint to key positions the nation’s “best and brightest” people – an action-oriented team of advisors and doers, rather than self-interested career bureaucrats.  Weaned on a decade of The Apprentice on television, Americans will believe that The Donald can find the right people to affect change, and if those lieutenants fail…they’ll be fired and replaced. That’s the type of hard-nosed decision-making and accountability that voters hunger for in a chief executive, whether it’s in a TV show, a company or a nation. And Trump’s campaign strategy will resonate with voters from all walks of life.

The concept of Donald Trump as president is disconcerting for many Americans. But he will remain a viable candidate not only because the executive branch of government has far too much on its plate to ever succeed, but also because the distinctions between entertainment and reality in all aspects of American culture continue to be blurred. Trump may be a cartoon character, but his historical timing is perfect, and his political instincts are formidable and underestimated.

Lacking any rival candidate from either party who can inspire the populace on a visceral level and who can provide a credible alternative to business-as-usual politics, America may very well end up with Donald Trump as its first “know-nothing” president, whose skills are managerial rather than intellectual.  In electing Trump, Americans will fundamentally change the role of the presidency by proxy rather than constitutional amendment, because our form of government established in 1787, however outdated, will always be considered as sacrosanct as the Bible.

The impact of Donald Trump as an American president will likely bring even greater disruption to the nation’s political infrastructure. After changing the dynamics of the office of the president, the next target of American voters will be the legislative branch of government.  That’s what Trump’s political opponents may fear the most.

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What Your Doctor Can Teach You About Business Growth

For many decades, physicians have been taught the “3 A’s” of a sound medical practice. They are the 3 qualities that their patients will value most highly, in rank order of importance:

  1. Affability
  2. Accessibility
  3. Ability

Regardless of whether your professional field is medicine, law, technology or finance, that same ranking applies to how you are valued by clients, particularly in B2B businesses.

For better or worse, your clients judge you (or your firm) primarily on a personal, visceral basis. First, they must like you (“Affability”), and be confident in your commitment to them (“Accessibility.”)  Your actual performance (“Ability”) will always be judged by clients on a relative basis, compared with their own knowledge of your craft, their past experience with other providers, the career risks involved in making a change, etc.

This ranking priority may seem illogical to a lawyer, fund manager or a physician whose view of the world is built on measurable evidence and tangible outcomes. But this apparent anomaly in client sentiment is supported by many real life examples. Insurance companies report that doctors who admit their mistakes and apologize to patients are rarely sued. Successful stock brokers report that they seldom lose clients for poor portfolio performance, if they are quick to explain why it happened and what’s being done about it.

Although client communication is at least as important as actual performance in most service businesses, companies seldom give that task the attention it deserves.

But for firms that understand the business impact of client communication, and have made a commitment to pay more than lip service to the discipline, the most significant challenges involve:

  • Finding the proper communication frequency, channels and content
  • Cutting through the vast amount of information that clients receive each day
  • Applying tactics that reinforce their firm’s value proposition and differentiation

Here are a four ways to improve your firm’s client communication strategy:

Stop Guessing About What Clients Think: One of the most obvious yet overlooked ways to maintain and strengthen communication with clients is to ask them for their opinion. Legendary New York City Mayor Ed Koch constantly asked his constituents, “How am I doing?” And it was more than a political gimmick, as Koch always listened to their responses, and applied what he learned to improve his performance and reputation.

You can measure client sentiment on an informal basis, similar to Ed Koch; but you’re more likely to yield meaningful results if you conduct a formal survey either online and / or by telephone. Online platforms like surveymonkey.com make it easy to design, conduct and evaluate a client opinion survey. You can conduct phone interviews yourself, or engage a 3rd party.

There’s a widely used survey methodology that yield “Net Promoter Scores,” designed to measure client loyalty; but for most small firms, you really only need to ask three questions: 1. Are we meeting your expectations? 2. If not, why not?  3. How else can we add value to our relationship?  The responses will likely provide some basis on which you can measure client sentiment and make beneficial changes. But the intrinsic marketing value of any opinion survey – regardless of the questions or response rates – is that it lets clients know you care about them.

Consistency and Speed of Communication Matter: The cornerstone of your client communication strategy should involve regularly scheduled contact; ideally on a quarterly basis, and provide content that’s of genuine interest to them.  This does not include your performance / activity reports; news that touts your firm’s “Best of [fill in the blank] Award;” its 4 recently hired employees; or the results of last month’s employee 5k mud run. It should include viewpoints and guidance that’s not self-serving, and helps your clients to succeed. For scheduled contact, consistency also matters. Using floor broker lingo, this is a “Fill or Kill” decision, so either commit to scheduled client outreach, or don’t start a program.

Your firm should also be prepared, on an opportunistic basis, to communicate with its clients when there is some (internal or external) material event that may cause them to be confused, concerned or excited. This is a critical part of what “accessibility” means: that you’re always thinking of your client’s welfare. Whether it’s a 500-point drop in the Dow Industrials, or a new scientific discovery related to their business, you need to reach out to your clients – by email, phone, text, snail mail – as soon as possible to deliver the (bad or good) news. Ideally, you’ll also be in a position to help them avoid, adjust to or benefit from the information you provide.

Personalize Your Client Communications: Small firms have a significant marketing advantage, because it doesn’t take very much effort or expense to add a personal touch to their communications with clients. For starters, your firm should know and track personal information of key individuals, including their birthday, spouse / partner’s name, children’s names and ages, hobbies, favorite sports teams, etc. No detail is unimportant. 

An old adage, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care,” rings true across all lines of business. The more information you have about the personal lives of your clients, the better prepared you’ll be to have conversations about what’s most important to them, and to find ways to reinforce your long-term relationships. Ask about their trip to Belize. Send them a handwritten note when their hockey team wins the Stanley Cup, or when their daughter gets accepted to law school. Send a box of cigars when they win their club’s golf tournament. Treat them to dinner at an upscale restaurant on their 10th wedding anniversary. As long as your efforts are genuine, clients will remember, appreciate and reciprocate in terms of loyalty.

Think Outside the Box during Holiday Season: In lemming-like fashion, around the holidays most companies will send out a greeting card purchased from an online catalogue, imprinted with the firm’s name. (Many companies don’t even bother to sign their card, or to add a personal message.) Holiday season conformity can provide a great opportunity to stand out from the crowd. For example, instead of sending out a holiday greeting in mid-December, consider sending a clever Happy Thanksgiving card, which won’t get lost in the pile of December’s cards, and will avoid offending anyone, based on their religious affiliation.

Another way to stand out is to forgo the traditional cocktail party or reception, where great expense and advance planning can all be for naught if bad weather or a competing event keeps your invited guests from attending. As an alternative, host a fancy catered luncheon for your client’s entire staff at their own office location during the holiday season, where you attend and hand out the egg nog or candy canes. Or avoid the holiday madness altogether, and around Memorial Day send your clients a beach chair, boogie board or cooler (all featuring your firm’s logo) to celebrate the beginning of the summer season.

The real secret sauce of client communication for any business is to manage the effort as an opportunity rather than a necessary evil. Or in the words of Dicky Fox, fictional mentor of Jerry Maguire, from the 1996 movie of the same name:

“The key to this business is personal relationships.”

Make that your own mission statement, and watch your business grow.

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Bare Essentials: Marketing as a Necessary Evil

Business owners across all industries and professions start companies because they have a specific expertise or interest – whether it involves trading currency futures or replacing car mufflers – and eventually discover that selling their product or service is neither in their wheelhouse, nor something they enjoy doing.

To make matters worse, business owners often engage ad agencies, PR firms and outside (and internal) marketing “experts” who are always ready to prescribe a long list of tactical solutions (white papers, blogs, newsletters, publicity, social media, direct mail, conferences, advertising, etc.)…all of which may be more likely to generate distractions and invoices than new accounts or revenue growth.

As a result, business owners are often left confused, disappointed and angry over the lack of return on their marketing investment. Or they’ve heard all the horror stories and avoid marketing altogether, hoping their “connections” will drive new business.

Because marketing is viewed by many business owners as a necessary evil, a common question they ask is, “What are the bare essentials that I absolutely need to grow my business?”

Here’s a very short list marketing essentials for B2B and professional services firms:

 1. A Website that’s Worth Reading: Your website must provide visitors with a clear understanding of who you are, what you do, how you do it, why you are doing it, and who would benefit most from what you do. Your website should also:

  • Use plainspoken, simple language
  • Not ramble on, or seek to dazzle readers with your brilliance
  • Be written by a professional copywriter; not by you or by your attorney
  • Contain graphic elements that support your firm’s brand (avoid cheesy stock photos)
  • Feature a limited number of sections / pages, and be easy to navigate
  • Take advantage of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics
  • Avoid being overly self-promotional
  • Present your professionals as individuals who are real and approachable
  • Use first-class, consistent photography for people’s portraits
  • Consider using a brief video (under 2 minutes) of your key people, and / or an animated video that explains your business
  • Include contact information; not a generic response form
  • Not require a user name and password to gain access to white papers or other content that showcases your firm’s intellectual capital

Even though your website will be “brochure ware” with little or no functionality, it’s important that it be properly wired into Google Analytics or clicky.com, so that you know who is visiting your site, where that traffic is coming from, what information they are looking at, and how long they are staying. If you don’t monitor website traffic on a regular basis, then you are missing opportunities to follow-up on potential interest, and to make ongoing improvements to your website and marketing strategy.

2. A Device that Helps People Remember You:  The key marketing goal for most service-related businesses is top-of-mind awareness, which means getting people to remember you, and to reach out to you when they’re ready to buy whatever you’re selling. Because you can never know when your target audiences (current and prospective clients, intermediaries, referral sources, etc.) will be ready to make decisions, your firm must create an internal discipline and content to remind them of:

  • Your existence
  • Your intellectual capital
  • Your credibility
  • Your potential to help them

To achieve top-of-mind awareness, you’ll need to establish and maintain scheduled, direct communication with your target audiences, either by email or snail mail. The two necessary component are an up-to-date database (or CRM system), and interesting, relevant content to send to them on a quarterly basis. For many firms, the database creation is relatively easy; but content development can be extremely difficult because it takes time and planning.

Here are some ways to make this process simpler and more effective:

  • Create a repeatable format, such as an interview series, a partner letter, or hypothetical (or real) case studies.
  • Your content should not be lengthy, and should accommodate surface readers through headlines, subheads, sidebars, an intro or summary.
  • Avoid canned newsletter formats and do not promote firm-specific news. No one really cares about your firm’s recent mud run or fundraiser.
  • Address topics and issues that demonstrate the firm’s thought leadership, but don’t present it in an overly academic, ponderous style. Make it readable, and skip the complex charts.
  • Add all the content you generate to a “Thought Leadership” section of your website, so that it gains broader exposure and longer shelf-life.

Remember that your marketing strategy here is consistent contact with decision-makers. So unless you commit to communicate on a regular basis, don’t start a market outreach program. If quarterly is too onerous, then semi-annually is better than nothing. Just keep in mind that there is usually an opportunity loss associated with infrequent contact. And if all this sounds like too much work, then skip to Item #3 below.

3. A LinkedIn Profile that Mirrors Your Website: LinkedIn has become an important market research and due diligence tool for all industries. To leverage this online exposure, and because LinkedIn can drive traffic to your website, your company’s LinkedIn profile should have the same look and feel as your website. This graphic and content consistency suggests to outside audiences that your firm has its act together, strategically and operationally. Here are some other ways to benefit from LinkedIn:

  • Make sure that the individual profiles of all your staff members are a reflection of your firm’s professionalism. Although this effort can be like herding cats, at the very least ensure that your firm is described accurately and consistently in all their LinkedIn profiles.
  • Ensure that all of your staff profiles include photographs. Better yet, bring in a professional photographer and provide all staff members with high quality photos for their LinkedIn profiles.
  • Post all of the Thought Leadership content (described in Step 2) onto your firm’s LinkedIn profile as it’s published, to gain additional exposure.
  • Work at building your LinkedIn connections, which should also be added to your database of target audiences that you reach out to on a regular basis.

If you’re looking to do only ONE “bare marketing essential” from this short list, focus on building a world- class website. Your website still serves as the mother ship of your brand, it’s the one place that all prospective clients will visit, and it can kill interest quickly if it’s not professional-looking and distinctive. And if that’s too much of a marketing burden, then you might consider another profession…perhaps as an astronaut or a rodeo clown.

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Your Marketing: Is it the Love Child of Warren G. Harding?

After nearly a century of fighting for the legitimacy of her “love child” daughter, the long-time mistress of President Warren G. Harding, was recently vindicated by new DNA testing.

The tenacity of Nan Britton and her family helped to prove that America’s 29th president fathered more than the Teapot Dome corruption scandal. Harding never met his out-of-wedlock daughter, Elizabeth Ann, but demonstrated presidential timber by providing financial support for her until he died in office at the age of 57.

For Chief Marketing Officers, the outcome of this juicy scandal might provide some hope that hard work and determination can help them to legitimize the often maligned marketing function, and perhaps increase their stature and length of tenure at the senior management table.

Unfortunately, there are no DNA tests to validate marketing as a legitimate member of the CXO family of business functions. But there are some unscientific ways to accomplish that goal within your company:

  • Clarify Marketing’s Role – The most pragmatic answer to “What is marketing?” may be: “Whatever your employer (or client) needs it to be.” Exploration of how marketing can be applied to achieve tangible benefits for your organization begins with frank and perhaps eye-opening conversations with senior managers to gain a first-hand understanding of their current perceptions and expectations of the function. You may be surprised at the depth of misunderstanding that exists within your organization regarding your activity and its value. This is an opportunity to clarify what marketing does and can do for them, to identify their needs and establish expectations.
  • Get Quantitative – The fuzzy nature of marketing can sometimes make it difficult to demonstrate a direct correlation between that activity and tangible business outcomes. Most senior executives accept that reality, and do not expect marketing to be a profit center. However, marketers who understand the bottom-line orientation of the business world make it a priority to connect the dots internally, by explaining and highlighting what role marketing has played in helping to produce results – whether those outcomes are measured by lead generation, search engine page rankings, revenue growth, employee satisfaction or customer experience.
  • Speak Their Language – It’s not necessary to understand all the technicalities, issues or nuances related to various corporate functions, but marketers need to know what’s important. For example, your CFO does not expect you to be up-to-date on Dodd-Frank compliance, but does expect you to be well-versed regarding the company’s business model (how it makes and spends money), its competitive landscape, key legislation and enterprise priorities such as market share, acquisition or going public. Speaking your company’s language has less to do with knowing balance sheet terminology, and more to do with being tuned into what’s on the priority list of its senior team and your ability to adapt marketing strategies to support those goals.
  • Get Strategic – As a staff function, marketing is often viewed as corporate overhead, and expendable when times get tough. Making marketing an essential element in line function strategies can build internal support as well as career longevity. To make marketing indispensible within your organization, focus on activities that are valued by senior management. These are typically tactics that make the phones ring, or move the revenue needle. For example, drive a successful effort to get your company’s whiz-bang technology included in a respected industry benchmark such as the Gartner Magic Quadrant (ideally, without paying Gartner’s hefty subscription fee), and watch the marketing department’s stature rise internally.
  • Act Like an Agency – Outside marketing firms live or die by the level of service and results they deliver to clients. An agency’s motivation and enthusiasm are driven by an appreciation that if they fail to meet expectations or add value, they will likely be replaced. Corporate marketing practitioners who adopt an agency mindset – treating each operational function as an outside agency might manage a client – can build internal support across the organization. From a practical standpoint, this means understanding what your internal clients need, developing tailored plans of action, being accountable for agreed-upon deliverables and maintaining a sense of urgency.
  • Be Fearless – You must serve as the marketing function’s ambassador within your company. Keep the pom-poms in the file cabinet, but don’t be shy about discussing what’s working, as well as what’s not and why. If you don’t point out marketing’s contribution to the top or bottom lines, no one else will. Conversely, if you don’t put shortcomings out on the table, someone else is likely to do that for you. And if you’re in an environment where honest conversations regarding success and failure are not fostered, then it may not be a management table where you want to be seated.

The ancestors of President Harding’s mistress fought for decades simply to prove that Nan Britton was telling the truth regarding her love child. Marketing, as the love child of every enterprise, deserves an equal level of determination to prove its value to a skeptical business world. 

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Connect-the-Dots Marketing: A Gift from Steve Jobs

In his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, Apple CEO Steve Jobs offered a “connect the dots” perspective on the random events that shaped his life.

“You cannot connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards…

For B2B marketers, this “rear view mirror” approach to connecting the dots in your tactical tool kit makes great sense.

The underlying appeal of any connect-the-dots puzzle is based on seeing a recognizable image appear from an apparent hodge-podge of numbered dots, simply by following a prescribed path.  But for most marketers, if the dots represent possible tactical solutions, then your challenge is that:

  • There are usually too many dots to choose from, and
  • The dots have no assigned numbers to follow

And that’s why Steve Jobs’ advice should be followed by marketers: Start with a specific business outcome you’re seeking, and build your tactical strategy in reverse order. For example:

Step One: Create Your Picture     One reason why average CMO tenure is so brief is because marketers often focus on the dots, rather than on the picture that the connected dots should create. If you’re a B2B marketer, one picture you might want to create is making the “short list;” which means being contacted consistently by prospective (or existing) clients as a candidate for assignments. That’s a picture your CEO understands and appreciates, because it can lead directly to revenue. It also leads to continued employment for CMOs.

Step Two: Ignore Your Dots     With your picture defined, it can be difficult to resist the urge to open the tactical toolbox immediately. But prior to selecting and numbering the dots, you’ll need to sketch the path the dots will follow. Using the “short list” picture, for example, you’ll first need to gain internal consensus on:

  • What your clients and prospects need right now or in the future
  • Why your firm is entitled to be on the short list (your value proposition)
  • How you stack up against other firms seeking a place on the short list
  • What’s likely to exclude your firm from short list consideration
  • How to quantitatively measure the effectiveness of your short list strategy

Step Three: Select and Number Your Dots     With your picture and path well defined, the selection and sequencing of tactical dots in often a no-brainer. To complete the “short list” picture example: your dots will likely involve:

  1. Top-of-mind Awareness: You’ll need to establish an internal discipline designed to communicate directly and consistently (ideally on a quarterly basis) with clients, prospect and referral sources. The old adage “Out of Sight / Out of Mind” rings true in B2B communication, and don’t expect social media to address that requirement.
  2. Thought Leadership: This label for intellectual capital may be a bit shopworn, but your firm must provide its target audiences with content (owned media or earned media) that validates intellectual capital and potential to add value. And you’re more likely to make the short list by providing content that’s interesting and helpful to them, and not simply touting your own credentials.
  3. Distribution Capability: This need not be an expensive or complicated CRM system. You simply need to build and maintain a robust database of targeted individuals, and use a distribution / tracking platform (such as Constant Contact) that gets your content to them easily, and in a professional format.

Step Four: Add Dots Selectively     When there’s little (or slow) progress being made toward completion of a “picture,” the temptation for marketers is to simply add more tactical dots, rather than trying to understand why the existing dots are not properly connecting. In general, additional dots should be applied only if they add incremental value to a picture that’s already completed. For example, if your firm is regularly making the “short list,” but wants to eliminate competitors altogether, you might add a tactical dot involving pro-active outreach (in advance of any short list) to select prospects, to introduce a proprietary or solution tailored to their needs.

It’s unlikely that Steve Jobs had marketing in mind 10 years ago, as he connected the dots of his life experiences. But if you connect the dots in rear-view mirror fashion, we think it’s likely you’ll produce tangible business results that are based on more than just passive, wishful thinking…as the second line of Job’s advice to Stanford grads suggests:

…So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.

– Steve Jobs

Unfortunately for marketers, words like “trust” and “somehow” just don’t past muster in the business world.

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