Tag Archives: sales strategy

Skip the Marketing Plan. Try this “Easy-Bake” Recipe Instead.

betty-crockerThe first question we ask prospective clients is, “Do you have a Marketing Plan?”

Most prospects sheepishly acknowledge that they don’t have a formal Marketing Plan. This group earns big points with us for honesty.

Some less forthright prospects will claim they do have a Marketing Plan, but when asked to show it to us, this group responds with, “Our plan isn’t written down,” or “It’s being updated,” which really means that they don’t have a plan.

There are several good and bad reasons why companies (of all sizes) don’t create a Marketing Plan. Those spoken and unspoken reasons include:

·     It’s too much work to create and maintain a Marketing Plan.

·     We had a Marketing Plan once, and it just sat in a 3-ring binder on the shelf.

·     Senior management doesn’t understand marketing. Why confuse them more?

·     It’s easier to just keep trying different marketing tactics, to see what works.

After decades of watching companies either earnestly struggle to create a Marketing Plan, or strenuously avoid creating one, we recently had an epiphany. We realized that most companies should SKIP the Marketing Plan altogether.

Here’s why: The ratio of companies without (versus with) a Marketing Plan will never change. So rather than badgering and shaming the “No Marketing Plan” companies, we should help them focus exclusively on the critical components of marketing that will help them succeed. We call this process the “Easy-Bake Marketing Cake Recipe.”

In Betty Crocker fashion, here are step-by-step directions for creating an Easy-Bake Marketing Cake for your company…completely devoid of all marketing jargon:

The Strategic Ingredients

Step 1: Determine why customers should buy your product / service. This seemingly simple goal – to understand what’s special about your company – is the most essential element of marketing strategy. Many companies either don’t have a clue, or have an unfounded / unrealistic viewpoint on why people should do business with them. You need to nail this step.

Step 2: Learn why customers are buying from your competitors. To gain a reliable answer to the Step 1 question, you need to possess a thorough understanding of the competitive landscape. The most successful marketers know everything about (and closely monitor) current competitors, to gain insight into why customers buy from them. They also work to anticipate new competitors, and explore potential customer solutions that could disrupt the entire category.

Step 3: Learn what your customers want and don’t want. If you’re not having a continuous, two-way conversation with current, prospective and former customers, then you are flying by the seat of your pants, marketing-wise. And you can’t rely exclusively on surveys to gain that market intelligence. Pick up the phone and talk to decision-makers at least once a quarter to really understand what they think and what they need.

The Practical Ingredients

Step 1: Define what your marketing resources are. Marketing requires money and people. Work backwards to build a marketing strategy. First decide what resources are available to invest, and then determine what strategies / tactics you can afford to apply properly and consistently. Having an “open budget” for marketing makes you a target for the latest gimmick, and is a sure way to waste a boatload of money.

Step 2: Put your sales process under the microscope. Marketing is not a religion. To justify its existence as a corporate function, marketing must help produce tangible business outcomes. Most marketing activity should be related to sales…and the sales function requires close scrutiny in advance of any marketing investment. If your sales process is broken (or non-existent), then your marketing will likely yield nothing of value.

           Step 3: Define exactly what you want your marketing to achieve. Your marketing goals should be directly or indirectly connected to activity that drives revenue. If that revenue connection is fuzzy, or based largely on wishful thinking, then either refine or eliminate the weak strategies and tactics. Be ruthless in your evaluation of all marketing activity at all times.

The Tactical Ingredients

Step 1: Select one effective direct marketing tactic. Most email solicitations go unread, with good reason: they are self-serving, poorly written and lack a compelling rationale for people to respond. But because the email marketing bar is so low, there is plenty of opportunity to stand out from the crowd. There’s also a big opportunity to leverage traditional snail mail, largely because marketers have abandoned that channel in lemming-like fashion.

Step 2: Select one smart content marketing tactic. The objective is to showcase your company’s intellectual capital (which is very different from a sales pitch), either through respected print / electronic media sources or social media, primarily to gain online visibility for that content. The 2016 marketing reality is this: If potential clients can’t find you by searching online, then you are not in the game. If you prefer to stick with the “We’re a relationship business, and don’t need an online brand presence.” marketing approach, then please let me know. I would like to short your stock.

Step 3: Select one consistent tactic to keep in touch with clients, prospects and referral sources. With so much media noise and competition, and because you can never know when people will be ready to engage, it’s important to remind decision-makers that your company is ready to help them. Quarterly communication is sufficient, and will avoid being viewed as a pest. Standard “all about us” newsletters are boring, so provide content that’s meaningful and of interest to your readers.

This overly simplistic, 9-step planning process is unlikely to gain the endorsement of the American Marketing Association. But for the vast majority of businesses who don’t have the time or interest to create a bona fide Marketing Plan, this “Easy-Bake Marketing Cake Recipe” should more than suffice.

Compared with some of the overly ambitious, non-productive Marketing Plans that we’ve seen over the years, it’s also likely to produce a much tastier outcome. Bon appetit.

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Re-Thinking the “Best B2B Advertisement of the 20th Century”

the-man-in-the-chair-mcgraw-hill-885x1024In 1958, Gilbert Morris – an account executive at the Fuller Smith & Ross ad agency – created the, “I don’t know who you are,” business-to-business advertisement for McGraw-Hill Publishing Co. that 41 years later, in 1999, was named the “Best Business-to-Business Ad of the 20th Century” by Advertising Age’s Business Marketing magazine. Quite an achievement.

The iconic print display ad featured an executive in a bow tie hunched forward in a swivel chair, scowling into the camera. (In fact, Gilbert Morris himself was depicted as the executive in the ad.) To promote the practical value of corporate advertising, the ad’s body copy read:

“I don’t know you.

I don’t know your company.

I don’t know your company’s product.

I don’t know what your company stands for.

I don’t know your company’s customers.

I don’t know your company’s record.

I don’t know your company’s reputation.

Now, what was it you wanted to sell me?”

The 56 year-old McGraw-Hill ad concluded with this:

“Moral: Sales start before your salesman calls – with business publication advertising.”

What may have been a revolutionary B2B marketing concept in 1958 is now well understood by B2B marketers. Market awareness, brand impressions and 3rd party endorsements all matter. Sales and marketing must be integrated. We’ve got all that.

But if Gilbert Morris were writing ad copy in 2014, his advertisement would likely reflect very different marketing obstacles for B2B companies. Perhaps something like this:

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Confucius Say: Your Case Studies are Worthless

confuciusThe most noteworthy article on B2B selling was published in a 1966 Harvard Business Review article (#66213). In “How to Buy /Sell Professional Services,” author Warren J. Wittreich explains the differences between extrinsic and intrinsic selling.

Extrinsic selling occurs, according to Wittreich, when a B2B seller relies on successful work that’s been performed for other customers, as a means to validate the seller’s capabilities and potential ability to perform for a prospective customer.

The weakness of extrinsic selling is that it requires a prospective customer to make a leap of faith: to believe the service provider will provide a level of success that matches or exceeds the work performed for the seller’s past or current clients. Extrinsic selling is a “trust me” approach, employed by a great number of B2B product and service providers.

Conversely, intrinsic selling does not require a prospective client to base its selection of a seller based on work done for others. No leap of faith required. Instead, it engages the prospect in a meaningful dialogue that (1) addresses their specific situation; (2) demonstrates — on an immediate, first-hand basis — the seller’s understanding of the situation; and (3) validates the seller’s ability to help the potential buyer. Intrinsic selling provides buyers with a significantly higher level of confidence in the seller’s capabilities, and leads to an engagement or sale far more frequently and rapidly than extrinsic selling.

The B2B marketer’s task is to equip the sales force with methodologies and tools that help initiate and facilitate intrinsic selling. This goal is rarely accomplished through anonymous or identified client / customer “case studies,” which are widely used, that prospective clients rarely read, and often carry the same level of credibility as references on a job applicant’s resume. (Would a company ever publish examples of its past work that were not portrayed as highly successful?)

Create Tools to Engage Prospects

One example of effective B2B intrinsic selling involved Phibro Energy’s introduction of energy derivatives…which enabled large companies to manage price risk related to gasoline, jet fuel and heating oil. To capture the attention of CFOs of those companies, and to convince them that energy derivatives were a viable risk management strategy, Phibro’s sales force needed more than brochureware. A prospective client needed to understand exactly how energy derivatives would benefit his company.

To establish an intrinsic sales dynamic, Phibro equipped its sales reps with a worksheet that calculated the range and depth of the prospect’s energy price exposure. Then, by applying a sophisticated algorithm, the sales rep was able to show exactly how energy risk management could improve the CFO’s company’s balance sheet.

Phibro’s energy exposure worksheet not only enabled their sales reps to establish an intrinsic sales dynamic, it cast the sales rep in a consultative role, and positioned Phibro Energy as a resource that could help reduce economic risk and lower operating costs.

Marketers at most B2B businesses, as well as many B2C firms, have similar opportunities to build interactive disciplines and tools — both online and offline — that can empower their sales reps to leverage the power of intrinsic selling. In taking this approach, they also benefit from the wisdom of the marketing master, Confucius, who purportedly wrote:

 I hear…and I forget.

I see…and I remember.

I do…and I understand.

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The Power of Insulting Customers: Confessions of a Vacuum Cleaner Sales Rep

The Rolls Royce of Vacuum Cleaners

My connection with advertising legend David Ogilvy is that, early in our careers, we both sold consumer appliances door-to-door. Long before he founded Ogilvy & Mather in 1949, and following a short-lived career as a chef in Paris, David Ogilvy sold AGA cooking stoves to housewives in Scotland. Long before I founded Highlander Consulting, as a college student seeking money for gas and beer, I sold Fairfax vacuum cleaners to housewives in Connecticut.

Ogilvy claimed his door-to-door sales experience provided insights into the mind of the consumer that earned him acclaim as an advertising wizard. I credit my door-to-door experience with an appreciation for the power of insulting people as a sales tactic.

Created long before Star Wars, Fairfax vacuums looked like R2-D2, were priced at several hundred dollars and equipped with a motor so powerful it could nearly – to borrow a phrase – suck the chrome off a trailer hitch. Although my recollection of how I first became associated with the Fairfax Company remains fuzzy, I can recall every detail of my first home demonstration, given to an unsuspecting housewife by my sales trainer, a seasoned vacuum cleaner salesman straight from Glengarry Glen Ross.

Here’s a replay of our sales visit:

Sales Trainer:    Thank you, Mrs. Jones, for allowing us to demonstrate the power of the Fairfax vacuum. Before I do that, would you kindly show me the vacuum cleaner you’re currently using to clean your beautiful house?

[Mrs. Jones brings her vacuum out of the closet. The Sales Trainer plugs it in and then pulls out a glass jar full of dirt, hair, dust balls and other unpleasant items.]

Mrs. Jones:         Oh, my!

Sales Trainer:      Now I don’t want you to be upset, Mrs. Jones, I assure you that no permanent damage will be done to your rug.

Mrs. Jones:         Well, I’m not sure that…

[The Sales Trainer opens the top of the glass jar, and dumps the entire mess on to a portion of the rug.]

Mrs. Jones:         Oh, my!

[The Sales Trainer smiles at Mrs. Jones while he steps into the pile of dirt and grinds it into her rug with his foot.]

Mrs. Jones:         [Visibly upset.] Oh, my!!! How will I ever get that dirt out…

Sales Trainer:      Let’s see how well your vacuum cleaner handles this mess.

[The Sales Trainer vigorously vacuums the rug for several minutes with Mrs. Jones’ vacuum until no dirt is visible and the rug’s original appearance is restored. Mrs. Jones now appears more relaxed.]

Sales Trainer:      Would you say that this area of your rug is clean now, Mrs. Jones? Why don’t you get down and take a closer look, to check for any dirt?

[Mrs. Jones reluctantly agrees, bends over to take a closer look and runs her hand over the carpet.]

Mrs. Jones:         You seem to have gotten all of the dirt out. You really scared me for a moment.

Sales Trainer:      Well, let me give it a couple more passes with your vacuum, just to be sure it’s clean.

[The Sales Trainer begins to vacuum the area again. Mrs. Jones looks at me.  I look down at the floor until he stops the vacuum…The Sales Trainer sits down and directs Mrs. Jones’ attention to his new Fairfax vacuum which features a clear plastic fitting in the middle of the hose (for demo purposes only) containing a white, porous paper filter designed to collect any dirt before it enters the vacuum canister.]

Sales Trainer:      As you can see Mrs. Jones, my Fairfax vacuum is equipped with a special paper filter that will show us how much dirt is being collected. So let’s go back over that spot we just cleaned with your vacuum.

[With great fanfare, the Sales Trainer begins to vacuum the rug. As he does, he points to the white filter in the hose, which immediately begins to collect debris and turn black in color. Mrs. Jones stares at the filter. She looks quickly at the Sales Trainer, then at me, and begins to mutter something to herself as the Sales Trainer shuts down the Fairfax.]

Mrs. Jones:         That’s amazing…I never…

Sales Trainer:      As you can see, Mrs. Jones, your vacuum appears to have missed quite a bit of dirt and debris that was in your rug.

Mrs. Jones:         It certainly did.

Sales Trainer:      Mrs. Jones…may I ask you a personal question?

Mrs. Jones:         Well, I guess so…

Sales Trainer:      Mrs. Jones…Do you care about the health and safety of your family?

Mrs. Jones:         Why, of course I…

Sales Trainer:      Mr. Jones…Is this really the way you want your family to live…[long pause as he points to the black filter on the hose]…in a dirty, germ-filled house?

[Having just suggested that Mrs. Jones is an unfit housekeeper, she is clearly shaken and unable to respond. She looks at the Sales Trainer, and then at me. Expecting the worst, I shuffle my feet, planning a rapid retreat from the house. The Sales Trainer remains frozen in position, during a very long silence, staring at Mrs. Jones, waiting for her to answer his question.]

Mrs. Jones:         [Clearing her throat.] How much will your Fairfax vacuum cleaner cost me?

[The tension in the room evaporates. The Sales Trainer sits down, pulls out a contract from his valise, and proceeds to sell Mrs. Jones a new Fairfax vacuum.]

My tenure as a Fairfax vacuum sales rep was short-lived and highly unsuccessful, never having found the courage to ask Connecticut housewives the insulting question that would initiate a sale. However, to this day I continue to apply the important lessons in sales craftsmanship taught to me by my Fairfax vacuum sales trainer:

  • Know what’s important to your customer.
  • Be straightforward in pointing out a problem (or opportunity.)
  • Demonstrate a viable solution.

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Sales Tips from PR Legend Lee Levitt

Lee Levitt, sans fedora and shoulder bag

Lee Levitt, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 80, continues to be remembered as a PR practitioner who gave much to the profession; as someone who lived up to his characterization as an industry visionary.

Paging through Lee’s “Manual of PR Sales Strategy & Tactics,” the insights he  offers are as relevant today as when he wrote them in 1992, and apply across all professional service disciplines, not just PR. Here are a few Levitt gems:

  • “What most managements want to buy today is the accomplishment of specific substantive corporate / institutional goals… So that is what you must sell. You cannot simply come in and enumerate the skills you have, the technical things you can do. You must explain how applying them will solve some substantive problem or take advantage of some substantive opportunity.”
  • “Telling people that you are going to counsel them can make you seem presumptuous and arrogant. No matter how diplomatically you put it, you seem to be saying that management is dumb and benighted, while you are smart and enlightened.”
  • “What prospects really want to hear about is themselves. They want you to tell them about themselves in exactly the same words they use… And they want you to want their business and be enthusiastic about it.”
  • “Never criticize what the prospect has done in the past. Let the prospect tell you what went wrong and whose fault it was… If asked if you could have done better, say you hope so.”
  • “Most salespeople believe it is their job to talk, and up to a certain point that is true. But once the prospect is primed to talk, it is your job to shut up and listen. Some salespeople never learn this.”

If you can find a copy of Lee’s book, buy it and read it. If you have a copy on your bookshelf, pull it out and re-read it. But don’t ask to borrow my copy, because it’s not going anywhere.

Lee Levitt embodied craftsmanship in public relations, and left a lifetime of wisdom for those who follow in his footsteps.

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