Category Archives: General Business Practices

Manage your next project like a pro

project management tipsWhether you’re putting the finishing touches on a great site design or seeing leads stream in from an email campaign, the end of a successful project feels great. What’s not always so great? The middle. Poorly defined expectations, sparring stakeholders and blown deadlines can derail the best of marketing intentions – and lead to unhappy clients.

As a project manager at The Simons Group, my job is to make sure our work stays on track, on time and on budget. We’ve learned what works and what doesn’t, developing a repeatable process that keeps everyone on the ball. If you’re tired of hearing “When is this due?” and “Why didn’t anyone tell me that?,” here are a few strategies to strengthen your project management game.

4 pro tips to keep projects on track

  1. Define your scope. Does that new logo need to include a tagline? How many concepts will you deliver? Will you present your work on a conference call or in person? Setting clear expectations upfront helps you avoid budget-busting scope creep and miscommunication with clients about deliverables.
  2. Name your stakeholders. This includes everyone performing the work, as well as the people who will approve it. Assign specific responsibilities to each person, from writing content to sourcing photos. If it’s a client-facing project, determine which company members will be involved in the review process and loop in everyone from the start. There’s nothing worse than preparing to launch a new site, only to find out the CFO thinks the home page is “too green.”
  3. Get techy. Project management tools are a lifesaver for companies with complex projects or a lot of projects to handle (or both, like us!). The Simons Group invested in one earlier this year, and it’s already paid for itself by cutting way down on the time we spend hunting through emails. Some platforms come with extras like time tracking, CRMs and accounting features, while others just offer the basics. Either way, you’ll be able to assign workers to tasks, set deadlines and see progress at a glance.
  4. Consolidate feedback. Everyone’s got an opinion – but when they all chime in separately, those opinions take forever to sift through, adding time and expense to your project. If multiple people at your client’s company will be reviewing work, encourage them to establish one point person to share feedback. Ideally, that person should smooth over internal squabbles and present the consensus. It’s not helpful to hear that Tom thinks “Chief Marketing Officer” should be capitalized in the middle of a sentence, but Bob doesn’t. (By the way, Bob’s right.)

How do you keep your projects on track? Let us know in the comments below.

Marketing tips for startups

startup marketingA friend approached me recently for advice on how to use his startup’s first marketing budget. He knew the amount wasn’t enough to contract an agency, but he and the other executives are all scientists – not marketers – so they didn’t know what to take on first.

Startups and other small companies often struggle with how to market themselves. A year’s worth of profits may not afford them logos, let alone websites or other substantial branding materials. And when it could be another year before they scrounge up the funds to execute the next step in their strategies, it’s essential to make sure that their first step has legs.

Startup marketing isn’t one-size-fits-all, however. Every company has different goals and different resources to leverage so that they can allocate their budgets appropriately. For most, a functional website is probably a safe bet, but connecting with the right people is more complicated than buying a domain name. To be the most effective, start with the basics.

3 marketing tips for startups

  1. Tap your network. Successful entrepreneurs know the value of creating and maintaining relationships. Even if you’re not an all-star networker, you can ask friends, family or former co-workers for advice or to connect you with someone who could help develop your marketing plan. Take inventory of the writers, designers, coders, developers or agency professionals you have access to and reach out to see if they’d be interested in sharing some advice or joining your project. For the cost of a cup of coffee, you might receive valuable insights that could help you meet your goals.
  2. Think critically about your internal bandwidth. Many companies, large and small, try to save money on marketing by assigning tasks internally. While we always support involving thought leaders – particularly for technical or otherwise complex content – those members of your company may already have too much on their plates to devote the necessary time to marketing. Employees at startups are often stretched thin, with little to no spare time, so asking someone to take on a marketing project could mean something else gets put on hold.
  3. Identify your audience. Startup marketing audiences vary widely, from customers to media, investors and potential partners. The key to making the most of a startup-sized marketing budget is to identify the most important audience for the company’s current needs. From there, you can determine the best methods of contact, what you want them to know about your company and – most importantly – why they should care.

Once you’ve identified the resources at your disposal and the primary audience for your efforts, you can move forward with developing an outbound or inbound marketing strategy and the in-budget tactics to support that strategy.

What did you do with your first marketing budget? Let us know in the comments.

Are you invested in customer service?

customer service in marketingListening to hold music is the biggest part of my day. In my time spent in the auditory waiting room, I’ve noticed that hold music is the only properly functioning part of some companies’ phone systems. For example, the directory listing for Joe Schmo ends up at Jane Doe’s voicemail box. Or pressing zero for operator just repeats the automated menu. I dig through these messy phone systems as part of my job, but it’s still frustrating to deal with the unnecessary complexity that a poorly maintained system causes.

To me, a company’s investment in its phone system reflects its overall take on client service. If Corporation X doesn’t think fixing its broken directory is worthwhile, its leadership probably doesn’t consider client interest a top priority. I’m not saying that they’re only looking for opportunities to upsell you on products or services that you don’t need, but being difficult to reach doesn’t imply a customer-first attitude.

In the long run, a self-serving company ethic is self-defeating. Clients – potential or otherwise – can smell it from miles away.

Our clients usually come to us already knowing a little something about marketing. But just as a copywriter probably can’t design a visually compelling logo, no prospect knows every aspect of our industry. So, it’s our duty to educate our clients on why and how we can achieve their marketing goals, while respecting their time and business.

We go out of our way to fill in the gaps in a client’s marketing knowledge and develop a mutually beneficial relationship.

Agencies that don’t invest time teaching their clients and explaining why they recommend certain tactics are damaging the profession. A less-educated clientele sees less value in marketing. This attitude leads to the unfortunate result of businesses relying entirely on unsupported sales forces.

Some companies believe that they haven’t lost anything if they haven’t invested anything. But by not investing in the materials that their sales teams need to build relationships and close deals, they’re losing opportunities for revenue.

That out-of-date phone system or bad sales collateral may have just lost them a lead – but how would they know?

What’s your take on making behind-the-scenes investments to help your customers? Let us know in the comments.


Communication cues that can make or break a meeting

The workplace has embraced the digital world wholeheartedly. With email, Google chat and video calls all at our fingertips, in-person meetings can seem unnecessary. When your co-workers roll their eyes on their way to the conference room, it’s likely because those team meetings aren’t actually productive. It’s easy for a big group of people to get off track and spend valuable time spinning their wheels, instead of connecting in a meaningful, productive way.

meeting communication and productivity

But that doesn’t mean the traditional meeting is a lost cause. Some things that are understood easily during face-to-face interaction can get lost in digital translation. In-person meetings still have significance in the workplace, but how useful that time actually is depends on how you and your team communicate across the conference table.

Verbal communication

If you’re in charge, start off with a quick summary of the agenda before diving in to the meat of the meeting. Verbal confirmation of the agenda makes sure everyone is on the same page and decreases the risk of going off track.

Everyone, leaders and participants alike, should remember that every meeting is an opportunity to demonstrate professionalism. Speak clearly and carefully. You can be passionate and persuasive without being aggressive or loud.

Speaking is just half of the verbal communication equation, however. The other half – perhaps even more important – is listening. Truly productive meetings require that participants actively listen and respond to one another. If you stop talking only to continue as if no one else had any input, your meeting will be a waste of everyone’s time.

Nonverbal communication

Much of what is lost during email threads is out in the open in meetings. Tone of voice, eye contact and body language all matter.

When leading or presenting in a meeting, try to be aware of your entire presentation – not just your talking points. Are you speaking to engage your listeners or droning on in a monotone? Are you making eye contact or looking at your feet? Are you using your hands while you speak or crossing your arms? Your team members will notice these nonverbal cues, consciously or not. Speak in a positive voice, make eye contact with everyone and try to convey open interest with your body language.

Not everyone thrives on speaking in a group, but even making small changes to how presenters communicate can improve the productivity of every meeting.

Do you have any advice for making the most out of meetings? Let us know in the comments.

Turning outbound marketing ‘in’

inbound marketing

You missed a lot at The Simons Group this week. First, we got new chairs. My back has never felt better! (I also have a great price on some – lightly – used office chairs, if anyone is looking.)

Second, we had a kickoff meeting to integrate inbound marketing into our own rebranding effort. What is inbound marketing, you ask? Let’s start at the beginning.

The first marketing touch-point for a prospect generally comes through a company’s outbound marketing. Outbound marketing makes sure prospects are aware of your company and services. An easy way to think of outbound marketing is that it’s any time a company reaches out to potential customers. Cold calls, email lists, direct mail and digital, print and broadcast advertising all fall into this category. Obviously, good outbound marketing is essential for shaping your brand awareness and perception, but it’s a blunt tool that shows the same content to every prospect.

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is specialized ­and relies on you breaking the trail for customers to find and engage with your company. Inbound marketing centers not only around bringing new prospects in, but also on keeping and enticing quality prospects. Once the outbound marketing has yielded awareness, inbound marketing draws prospects closer and moves them through – and beyond –the sales cycle by showcasing specialized, relevant content.

An inbound marketing campaign puts specific content in front of specific prospects – those who would find it relevant. Developing such a campaign requires creating a small series of buyer profiles to help define your target audiences’ differences.

An example of a buyer profile is a mid-level industry manager at a national company whose main concern is finding a solution with a good return on investment. Within this strategy, the content you would direct his way would showcase how your solution has definable metrics and flexibility to adapt to long-term needs. Then, you have to work that content into a strategy that makes it appear when and where that mid-level manager is most likely to interact with it. The hope is that the content is so relevant the prospect develops enough respect for your brand to become a client, and is enthusiastic enough to become an advocate for the company.

While none of your buyer profiles will come to life and walk through your door, creating content for a smaller generalized group will help a broader range of prospects find what you’re doing worthwhile. This is why the planning stages of an inbound marketing campaign are crucial. It is important to get an accurate buyer profile before implementing a content strategy so that your efforts are most effective.

Have you made the shift toward inbound marketing? Let us know what you think about it in the comments.

What my dog’s taught me about business

Mika Chillin in the parkThis is Mika and she means business! If you’ve kept up with my other posts, you’ve come across this little lady before. She is quite the little showstopper and gets attention wherever she goes.

Mika recently turned 2 ½, which prompted me to reflect on how much she has changed my life for the better – including how she has made me better at my job! She has taught me how to be a better communicator, how to live in the moment and the importance of listening to my gut. Here are some ways that my Mika has schooled me in the art of business:

Communication is in the details

Not much escapes Mika when it comes toSleeping with eyes open humans. She is even known to sleep with her eyes open (which is sort of creepy) to ensure that she doesn’t miss anything. She is always paying close attention to body language and context to assess what our human words really mean.

My husband and I sometimes try to trick her into thinking we’re sad or angry by changing our tone or inflection. She never falls for it, no matter how convincing we think we are. She sees – or hears – right through us by reading the other unspoken cues.

Sometimes in our haste to close a contract, progress a partnership or hire a new staff member, humans can fail to do our own due diligence. Carefully examine those with whom you wish to develop a relationship with and look beyond what they say – even if it is what you want to hear. Pay attention to the tone of their voice (do they sound genuine?), their actions (do they say one thing yet do another?) and their follow-through (do they say they want to be part of the team but never volunteer?). By combining these cues with their words, you’ll get a much clearer picture of their true intentions.

Being present in the moment

Mika does not spend her days dwelling on the past or fretting about the future. She lives her life in the now. She experiences all of life’s tastes and sniffs in the moment.

Mika In GooglesWhen Mika goes to the lake to swim, to the park to play or eats her favorite food (cheese), her enthusiasm never fades. She truly is living in the moment and not taking anything for granted.

When you’re in a meeting, be in the moment. Be attentive and listen and really give your fellow meeting members your full attention. Always aim to pay attention to the moment you are in right now. Be mindful of your actions and understand that the simple act of being present will impact those around you for the better. Do not fill your head with past or future situations. Folks can tell very quickly if you’re really “there” or if you’re just plotting your next step.

Listening to your instincts

 Mika forms opinions and makes decisions based on her “gut.” She is blessed with an intuition that allows her to assess friend or foe in an instant. If Mika doesn’t like another human or dog after a few sniffs, she will follow her instincts and avoid them. If she senses hostility, bad intentions or instability she will let them know that she’s on to them.

Even with her ability to make split-second judgments, Mika is extremely well-balanced and friendly. She amazes me when she stands up for her other doggy friends if she senses that another dog has inappropriate intentions. She has a keen instinct for right and wrong and has been taught not to ignore that sense.

Animals have to rely on their gut instincts to stay alive. As humans, we sometimes try to block out our own gut feelings. We have all had that feeling of an employee that is not giving their job all that they could, yet we continue to make excuses for them hoping that they will eventually make a turn for the better. Or maybe you get a bad feeling about a prospect during the sales process but ignore it, just to have those issues amplified once they become a client. If you had listened to that gut instinct sooner rather thanMika nose later you can end up saving yourself a lot of grief down the road.

What animal instincts do you incorporate into your business practices? Let us know in the comments!




What does ‘truth’ mean to marketing?

truth in marketingHistorically, much philosophical debate has focused on the search for “truth.”

This history includes myriad accounts of what truth is. They range from being relatively simple, like Rene Descartes’, “I think, therefore I am,” to mind-numbingly complex. But what all of these accounts have in common is an assertion that there is “truth” – that reality has a certain structure that, with the proper philosophical viewpoint, you, too, can comprehend.

As you get later into the development of philosophy, however, the definition of truth opens up. Friedrich Nietzsche is famous for is his dramatic insistence that “truth is a mobile army of metaphors.” Many American philosophers in the same period agreed, saying that “truth” is a commendatory term that expresses favor and not correspondence to reality. Crucially, Nietzsche and the American Pragmatist movement both thought that a true statement has to fit with other true statements. This undercuts the interpretation that a lie can be seen as a truth.

This definition of “truth” relates to marketing in a very tangible way.

In marketing, we calculate truth in moments. These “moments of truth,” a phrase coined by Swedish businessman Jan Carlzon, happen every time a customer interacts with your brand and has the chance to form an impression; it’s every time that a real customer tests the promise you’ve made.

By capturing and capitalizing on these moments, you can shape a customer’s perception and turn your brand promise into a truth.

Your offerings touch clients and prospects through many channels, so you have many opportunities to fulfill your promise and make it a truth. Consider what potential customers see when they search for your brand or find you in an industry search (what Google calls the zero moment of truth). Is their initial impression different if they come through a mobile channel versus a desktop format? Now think of their experiences making a purchase – how many ways can they do that?

Your sales team, every piece of marketing and every other customer interaction are up to you to shape. You owe it to yourself to find the unique driver that leads people to your company and leverage it to influence the perception of your brand. Find the most interesting approach you can to your company, and then to broadcast that to the world.

In what ways do you shape your brand’s truth? Let us know in the comments below.

Why do you really need marketing?

I marketplaceoften run into prospects that say, “We don’t need marketing.” Most of the time, these prospects work in an industry with a firm client base – and can maintain a steady-enough cash flow. That might be a company with government contracts or maybe just a few loyal large corporate clients.

When probed, however, this objection often is followed by a reference to the sales staff. I might hear: “My sales team doesn’t need any support, we get most of our business through relationships.” Or else they reference the industry: “We are a [fill in the blank], [blanks] don’t do marketing.” Regardless of the industry, marketing makes every sales staff more effective and, most times, we have a client in whatever industry our prospect claims does no marketing.

What is marketing anyway?

There are few business investments as intangible as marketing, since most other corporate functions are clear-cut. A finance department deals with ingoing and outgoing money; a legal department tends to contracts and terms; but the marketing department deals with the company’s self-image. Crafting the narrative the company uses to sell itself requires the marketing team to balance expenses, jump legal hurdles, appease management and grow the company – all using metrics like “impressions” and “influence.”

When a prospect says, “We don’t need marketing,” what he means is that his company is too straightforward to benefit from one of our services. For instance, management at a company like Widget Manufacturers Inc. might think its mission and products are self-explanatory, so why overcomplicate things? Why obscure such clear purpose underneath things like websites and e-blasts filled with jargon?

I’ll tell you why.

Many different companies do the same thing. One may do it faster; one better; one cheaper. But, without the kind of narrative that good marketing provides, how can a competing company ensure that prospects know that it’s better, faster or cheaper than the other guy? How does the sales team differentiate your company from your competitors?

If the reason you have no marketing is because nobody in your industry does it, you are using your competitors’ decisions to stunt your potential growth. The right marketing strategy is the kind of investment opportunity that you don’t want to miss out on.

What drives your marketing initiatives? Let us know in the comments.

Experts make the best sales team

Sales team, sales strategyWhat separates a standard sales approach from business development is the level of interaction with the product or service. How many salespeople can take a part in the creation or development of what they sell?

For the stereotypical used-car salesman who upcharges for standard features, the sleazy salesman only knows as much about his product as he needs to charge the highest price. Even some service industries are this way. Restaurant wait staffs, for instance, are primarily salespeople, and a server who doesn’t know much about food or providing atmosphere can ruin any dining experience.

Some companies have pared down the role of salespeople so that they’ve become responsible for drumming up clients for something they aren’t actively engaged in creating or improving. They add value to the organization only by meeting their quotas.

Business development, however, uses relationship building to ensure that prospects become long-term clients – not one-offs. To do this, the business developer needs to have a more robust understanding of her product or service to show that he is invested in the company and can make educated recommendations in the best interest of the client.

A lot of my prospects use a business development approach, as opposed to straight sales. Some might assume that business development is more important in professional services industries, but I’ve found that it can be just as successful in other industries, such as transportation and manufacturing. For example, a business developer working for a manufacturer will get down on the plant floor and see how the products are made, then go out and see how customers are using those products. He can then go back to the plant and talk to the engineers about what tweaks to the products would be most beneficial to customers.

In my experience, these folks in business development have extensive knowledge of their products and industries. They have clear goals and they have some influence over the direction of their company, whether with hands-on involvement or in an advisory capacity. It’s the perfect blend of sales and expertise.

Do you think business development is the best sales approach? Let us know in the comments.

Build trust to build sales

Bridge to trust in salesBusiness deals, especially in B2B markets, are the result of relationships between people. Prospects have to trust the business development specialists on a level that surpasses how much they trust the represented companies. Good representatives know how to strengthen that trust by building and maintaining long-term relationships and taking a personal interest in their clients, not just their business. Since clients benefit from a deeper level of understanding, the relationship becomes mutually beneficial.

Sometimes, however, business development specialists focus so heavily on building rapport that they lose sight of their agenda. They want to make their prospects or clients feel comfortable, but overlook opportunities to close the sale. Here are some tips on how you can balance the personal and business sides of the sales equation.

Don’t be shady. Some self-serving salespeople engage in underhanded tactics to trick prospects into becoming clients. These are the salespeople who won’t take no for an answer, or who use disingenuous tactics to get prospects to call them back. This behavior is untrustworthy and sabotages any chance of a long-term relationship. Even if you trick a prospect into one sale, they will realize what you did: sacrifice long-term business for short-term gain.

Sell your perspective. Marketing communications are vital to every business, but I’ve heard a lot of reasons why prospects think differently. As an outsider, it’s my duty to paint a bigger picture for them so that they can see how marketing initiatives can play an active role in improving their businesses. Take time to listen to your prospects concerns, ideas and goals, then show them how your business can support their individual needs. An educated, outside perspective can help prospects, but only if they can see its worth.

Work together. Pandering or being a yes man does the prospect a disservice. Work with your prospects to identify solutions that meet their available time and financial resources. Make sure that you present all the available solutions, including your recommendations, so that they can make the right decisions to meet their short- and long-term goals. When they’re ready to move on to another step or find a new need, they’ll look to you, a trusted partner, for a solution. Together, you’ll find ways to sustain a lasting relationship that helps both businesses grow.