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June 2014

Perseverance is key in leadership

IStock_000009035898SmallRowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

It’s a rare leader who doesn’t get discouraged. When faced with challenges, the essential leadership trait that serves us best is perseverance.

The value of courage, persistence and perseverance has rarely been illustrated more convincingly than in the life story of this man (his age appears in the column on the left): 

Age 22      Failed in business

Age 23      Ran for Legislature – defeated

Age 24      Again failed in business

Age 25      Elected to Legislature                                     

Age 26      Sweetheart died                                               

Age 27      Had a nervous breakdown                               

Age 29      Defeated for Speaker                                       

Age 31      Defeated for Elector                                        

Age 34      Defeated for Congress                                     

Age 37      Elected to Congress                                         

Age 39      Defeated for Congress                                     

Age 46      Defeated for Senate                                         

Age 47      Defeated for Vice President                            

Age 49      Defeated for Senate                                         

Age 51     Elected President of the United States

That’s the record of Abraham Lincoln. 

Organizations experience success and good fortune. It is easy to be a good leader when things are going well. 

They also experience frequent changes and obstacles. It is how leaders handle the challenging times that reveals their true character and shapes how they are described and remembered by others. 

Napoleon Hill once said, “The strongest oak tree of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It’s the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun.”

So it is with great leaders.

Raise the blinds on your referral strategy

Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals, a startup company focused on helping businesses gain referrals from customers.

Have you ever been in an argument with someone and, having summed up your concise and beautifully articulated point, only get the response “...yea, but it goes both ways you know”? Well, I have. Several times. And, as elementary as the rebuttal is, it surprisingly holds weight quite often. When it comes to referrals, the same holds true. So many companies become frustrated with the lack of referrals they receive - even after providing such stellar service. But as close-lipped as customers are about giving referrals, the companies are lackadaisical when discussing their importance.

AceSleeveIt seems that companies are not only uncomfortable asking for referrals but they feel awkward when discussing them all together with their clients. There is a big difference between directly asking a customer for their personal rolodex and telling them you want to help their friends and family.

Shot in the dark

I recently spoke with a client that shed some light as to why some companies balk at discussing referrals with their customers. It turns out that many of the employees either think some of their customers are unhappy with them, or just don’t know where they stand in regard to loyalty. This uncertainty fosters the anxiety of encountering a potentially awkward situation.

The solution is really quite simple. Find out what your customers think about you in regard to loyalty. Sending emails asking their likelihood to recommend and for testimonials will raise the blinds on your referral strategy. Here’s why:

  • You are introducing the concept of referrals to your customers. This is metaphorically warming the butter (I explain below).

  • You know who will respond positively when you bring up referrals. The ace up your sleeve. Seek out the promoters and those that give you raving testimonials. They are the ones that only need a little nudge to refer you.

  • Positive comments and testimonials boost office morale and confidence. Making your employees feel comfortable about discussing referrals with clients begins here. Enlighten them as to how much they are loved and they will enthusiastically bring up referrals more.

Begin by warming your customers and making them understand how much you value referrals. Next, empower your employees to feel comfortable about discussing referrals and sharpen their confidence. The end result is a referral strategy that is like a hot knife cutting through warm butter (excuse the metaphor).

What to say

Finally, I have written before about how directly asking for names is not an effective referral strategy. So, just how do you bring them up with clients? By making them feel like you want to take extra special care of their friends and family. Remember, it is about them. Below I have included some effective ways of communicating with your clients about referrals.

  • “Taking wonderful care of you, your family, and your friends is what we love to do, and helping you (insert service here) is what our office is all about.”

  • “We would like to help even more people in the community (insert service here) and the best way to do this is to get the word out. Please do not hesitate to share your experience with your loved ones. We love to help!”

  • “I truly enjoy sharing my experience and helping others. Therefore I want to extend my hand to your friends and family. If they ever have questions or need advice they can call me directly. I will be sure to take extra care.”

Don't wait to show your appreciation

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place

A few weeks ago, I reminded small retailers that they shouldn't wait until the dog days of summer to start planning for the holiday season. That advice is just as true -- and valuable -- when it comes to giving gifts to clients, vendors, other business partners and employees.

Giving the right gifts at the right times of the year can really help you and your company stand out from the competition. And, make no mistake, today's business environment is as competitive as it's ever been.

Gift giving is a good investment in business relationships. It demonstrates that you value the relationship and want it to grow and strive.

Giving gifts in the business setting has a practical side, but it's important that it should also come from the heart and involve some thought about what would really delight the person on the receiving end.

In other words, it should be about thanking them -- not loading them down with promotional products like a coffee mug, key chain or pen with your company logo on it. Nevertheless, it's also possible to promote your business and even increase market share by showcasing your brand in the best possible way with the most appropriate gift.

Timing is also of the essence.

I've noted in the past that getting there first or even last has its advantages, but it's most advantageous to arrive at a different time than the pack. For instance, sending a gift in January to thank your client -- long after all the other holiday gifts have come and gone -- is a terrific way to stand out.

Of course, we're well past January, so other times to stand out might be Labor Day ("We love working with you"), Thanksgiving ("Thank you for being such a valued partner") or even no particular occasion at all (Just wanted to let you know how much we appreciate our partnership").

The bottom line: You shouldn’t wait until Christmas to start thinking about the right gifts to thank your clients, employees or others for their loyalty or business. Opportunities to connect with clients and business-to-business partners are more common than you may think. Be sure to make the most of them.

Let's wipe out unrecycled toilet paper

Toilet tissueRob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

Toilet tissue is used every day, but it is never going to be recycled. However, what you use should be recycled toilet tissue.

The most popular brands sold to homes contain zero recycled paper: Charmin, Cottonelle, and Quilted Northern. Scott Ireland of CapSan says, “very few nonresidential clients will pay the high prices for those products and usually buy recycled toilet tissue.”

Studies show if every family used just one roll of recycled tissue instead of virgin tissue, 420,000 trees would not be cut down. Think of the impact if every family used a case!

Toilet tissue 2Recycling one ton of paper for toilet tissue also saves 7,000 gallons of water and enough electricity to power a home for six months. That’s because the process of recycling paper into toilet tissue is much easier than starting with a tree!

SCA of Sweden, the third largest producer of tissue, has teamed up with two companies in Iowa to wipe out virgin tissue. You are going to love this!

First, trucks loaded with recycled toilet tissue come from Wisconsin to Des Moines and deliver to CapSan. Rather than return empty, the trucks pick up waste paper from City Carton at their main location in Iowa City. Of course you have contracted with City Carton so your office waste paper is there also. The paper is taken to Wisconsin and made into toilet tissue. Then it starts all over again.

Now you may not reuse the magazine you read last month, but there is a direct connection.

Where are you with wiping out virgin toilet tissue? Send your thoughts to rsmith@smithmetzger.com

Sad exit strategy

Steve Sink is the founder and managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd.

I was asked to meet with the owner of a forge company. The owner was a real gentleman and a very professional businessman.  He told me that he needed to sell his business within the next 3 to 4 months and wanted to know if I could help him.  

I reviewed the financials and pertinent information and found it to be quite profitable. So I asked him "What was the reason for the time frame"?

He told me that he had throat cancer and the doctors had given him that amount of time to live!  

We discussed the fact that a buyer would usually require the owner to stay on board for minimum transition period. And - the need to keep his condition confidential because if it got on the street, buyers would probably choose to wait out the situation. I told him that I would do the best that I could and took the listing.

Three months later, he had accepted an offer but passed away on his couch. Fortunately, he had kept his wife involved with the process and she made it through the closing process.

The sad part of the story is that the business did not sell for its true value vs. if the owner had taken the steps to do so. The good part is that the owner had done an excellent job of investing and the wife and children would not suffer financially.

The distressing fact to this story is that most owners have no exit strategy. 

 

Steve Sink

Certified Business Intermediary

ss@phxaffiliates.com

The customer experience doesn't just happen

DisneyapologyDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

There is not a business in existance today that does not want to deliver an incredible customer experience. And with good reason -- when a customer has an extraordinary interaction with your organization, some pretty cool stuff happens.

  • They spend more money
  • They come back more often
  • They tell other people and generate new customers for you
  • They share their experiences on social media

Here's the rub.  We all want it but very few companies actively train for it.  We tell our employees that we want them to treat our customers well.  We very well might set a good example by demonstrating it in their presence.  

But it's a rare business who regularly and actively teaches excellence when it comes to dealing with your clientele.

We just assume (and we know what that creates) that everyone who works for us magically knows what amazing customer care looks like.  But you are all consumers.  How often do you get that kind of service?  Don't you think the places you frequent (grocery store, restaurants, retail establishments, etc.) want great customer service too?

But just like you -- they assume their people get it.  And from our experiences in their establishments -- we know they do not.

No one gets customer service and business excellence better than Disney.  They get it because they've perfected it and they actively teach it/train it every day.  The picture in this blog post is what was delivered to our room at Walt Disney World because it wasn't ready on time.  Do you think they pulled that out of left field?  No -- it was planned and trained so that when they needed it -- it was easy.

No matter what kind of business you run -- you can deliver that same level of business excellence and it starts with learning Disney's tricks.

Lucky for you -- the folks at ATD (formerly ASTD) are bringing Disney's Approach to Business Excellence workshop right here to Central Iowa on September 16th. It will be taught by Disney Institute cast members and will be an entire day of learning and exploring how you can bring Disney's level of quality to everything you do -- earning Disney-like brand loyalty from your customers.

If you hurry -- you can grab the early bird discount.  And if you use the coupon code MMG (we're helping to sponsor the event) , you can get an additional discount on top of that.

You and your team can learn from the world class Disney organization's playbook. If you want to be a world class organization -- you have to teach your people what that looks like and how you can do it together.

Here's the perfect opportunity to do just that.  I hope to see you there!

 

~ Drew McLellan, Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

 

Who owns my website, anyway?

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

When you buy something from a vendor or company it’s yours automatically, right? Unfortunately, when it comes to a website, the answer isn’t always black and white. This is why it is very important at the beginning of your website design and development process for you and the company you’re working with to have this conversation.

Under U.S. copyright law, the creator of a work automatically holds the exclusive copyright to it. Therefore, the only way that copyright may be transferred to a customer is in a signed contract.

There are many pieces involved in a website both on the design and development side. You should take the website copy and photography into consideration as well. When you hire someone (an advertising agency, web firm etc…) to build your new website, first consider what you would like to be able to do with the site after it is launched. If you’re looking for a long-term partner and feel confident with the company you hired (hopefully!) you might feel very comfortable not having any administrator rights (full control) over your website. Generally speaking though, even if you feel comfortable with the company you hired, it is best to at least have the option to have full access to your site. You always want to protect yourself and you never know when you might want to work with someone else, or possibly have someone in-house that is able to make updates to not only copy and photos, but also the actual code or content management system of the site.

As an example, at the end of all of our website projects at Happy Medium, our clients have full rights to their website and own it outright. We often continue to work with them on periodic updates, but if they wanted to do those updates on their own they could. It’s their website. This is outlined in the language of our contract, and communicated at the beginning of relationships with new clients. Don’t be afraid to ask this question because it’s very important!

Often we’ll try to help a client with a project or an update to their website and they find out they actually don’t even have full access to their site. Then, their only option is to sometimes pay additional fees to be granted the access, or worse, it’s just not possible. They are stuck with the option to either keep the same, stagnant site (which is never good), or to pay to start over again. Consider your website an asset to your company like all others. Confirm your ownership and ask questions until you fully understand. Then, get it in writing. Good luck! 

Questions? Tweet me at @klstocking

--Katie

The art of the follow-up: We're not dating...

Follow upDanny Beyer is a sales executive at Kabel Business Services. He is a serial networker and often speaks about networking tips to groups in the community.

There is no point to networking without the follow-up. It's the most important aspect of the entire process and it's something that most of us tend to mess up. I want to be absolutely clear right now - networking is not dating. There is no 24 or 48 hour rule, no guideline about who should call first, no risk of sounding desperate with an immediate meeting request. In short, networking is typically about getting things done. The only way to do that is to follow-up.  

As I wrote in my last blog, I typically try to set at least one follow-up meeting at each event I attend. It's pretty easy because all of us tend to carry our calendar in our pockets through our smart phones. If this isn't your style don't be afraid to connect or email the person you'd like to meet as soon as you get back to your office. It's usually easier to set appointments with people you've just met because you're still fresh on their mind.  

The final piece is being persistent. Don't give up after one email or one voicemail message. There have been multiple times that I've had to email or call a person more than 10 times to set an appointment. When I finally got the person on the phone I apologized for leaving so many messages. Their response kind of surprised me - "No need to apologize. I kept meaning to call you back but things kept coming up. Thank you for the follow-up because I really did want to have this meeting." They thanked me for my persistence.  

Getting good at following-up doesn't take an overly complicated calendar or call strategy. It takes the willingness to be persistent and a desire to truly connect with people. Always remember that without a good follow-up plan, there is no point to attending all of those networking events. After all, I just want to go out for a cup of coffee, not on a date.  

The Myth of Multi-Tasking

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

One of the most enduring myths around time management is that multi-tasking saves time. Evidence that we are surrounded by this myth comes from the more than six million web pages offering strategies about how to multi-task.  

Leaders covet this quality in employees and interview candidates brag about high multi-tasking abilities. People proudly credit multi-tasking for their ability to get many things done. After all, doing two things at once must be better than doing one thing at a time. Or is it? Multi-tasking

The Research

In his book, The One Thing, author Gary Keller cites a 2009 study designed to reveal the qualities that make for a great multi-tasker. Stanford Professor, Clifford Nass, divided 262 test subjects into two groups. 

The group of high multi-taskers were outperformed on every measure by their low multi-tasker counterparts. Despite their own convictions about their capacity to do two things at once, the research was clear. Multi-tasking is a recipe for losing efficiency and effectiveness. When you try to do two things at once, you either can’t or you won’t do either task as well.

Why? 

Our brains are hard-wired to focus. 

Can I walk and talk at the same time? Yes. You use different parts of your brain for those activities and one of them (walking) is unconscious. If you are walking over treacherous terrain, the conversation would stop so you could concentrate (become conscious) on the walking. Similarly, you can drive your car and listen to the radio. That is, until you find yourself driving in a blinding Iowa snow storm and then the radio becomes a distraction. Driving has necessarily become conscious and you must focus.

Many of the things we try to do at the same time use the same part of our brain. For example, the activities of emailing and talking on the phone both use the communication center of your brain. When you try to do both activities at the same time, you miss something. When you try to read the scrolling updates at the bottom of the television screen while also listening to the media interview, your attempts at multi-tasking fail you and you miss something. When you are working on an expense report and your colleague drops by to interrupt you to talk about a business problem, the relative complexity of those two tasks makes it difficult to jump back and forth and it takes a toll on our productivity.

The Cost

What do multi-tasking and interruptions cost? It depends on the complexity of the tasks. Researchers estimate that the time lost can range from 25% on simple tasks to more than 100% on complex tasks. 

Multi-tasking also exacts a toll on relationships. When you are attempting to listen to someone while also checking your Smartphone, the other party realizes that they don’t have your full attention and the cost goes beyond lost efficiency – relationships also suffer.

Leaders can quickly enjoy improvements in productivity, decreases in errors and reductions in stress by applying this insight to their workplaces.

Consider referral marketing

Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals, a startup company focused on helping businesses gain referrals from customers.

Before there were billboards, or neon signs, or quirky insurance commercials disrupting our TV shows, there was only word-of-mouth. Businesses thrived or collapsed base on their reputation. People relied on their family and neighbors to separate the trustworthy from the snake oil salesmen. But anymore, marketing has evolved into an overly complicated science propagated by new sources of media. Have companies forgotten the value of referrals?

SnakeoilThis may be the digital age, but humans still rely heavily on fellow humans for advice on how to spend their money. In fact, recent studies show that people trust recommendations from close relations seven times more than typical, traditional advertising. Yes, most trust their close friend over a lizard on where to shop for auto insurance. Interesting as this is, not much research has been conducted on referral marketing over the last century. The prevailing belief remains that referrals are important to increasing business - especially in those industries that offer services and ongoing relationships with clients. But the idea of fitting referrals into sphere of marketing seems to be uncharted territory.

Unfortunately, many people think that referrals are things that just happen. The problem with this belief is the error of doing nothing to obtain more. This results in missed opportunities. Referral marketing begins with the understanding that there are proactive approaches to capturing more referrals - by implementing a consistent and targeted plan.

Although referral marketing is still in its infancy, companies are beginning to take notice of its viability of realizing new business. There are two conflicting theories currently battling in the market: Those that believe in the tit-for-tat mentality, and those that are relationship driven.

Tit-for-tat

You-scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours. Those businesses offering incentive-based referral programs that offer cash and prizes for recommending a friend. The idea here is founded on a business transaction opposed to a relationship. That if a business provides great service, an incentive will nudge their promoters just enough to get them to recommend their friends and family. The problem, however, is such incentives make the customer feel like a source of income for the business. Introducing money into the equation cheapens the relationship and shifts the customer away from social norms.

Relationship driven

This idea promotes establishing authentic relationships with clients. These companies believe relationships are key to successful branding and generating referral business. They understand that when a client refers them they are further investing themselves in the brand. Therefore, the company will find ways to build a sense of community with their clients. By bringing someone new in they are becoming part of the family and the incentive is based solely on the service they will receive. This is accomplished by establishing the referral mindset early on with clients and shying away from the monetary side of things. Creating a network of referrals is like building a community. Make people feel as if they are part of the team - that they are going to bat for you - and you for them.

Remember that referrals are not a knee-jerk reaction to great service and products. Leveraging loyal customers takes a proactive approach of incorporating referrals into the overall marketing strategy.

"Christmas in July" is too late

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place

When I was growing up, I remember a lot of retailers holding Christmas in July sales. The tradition got started mainly because there are no holidays between the Fourth of July and Labor Day so retailers needed to create an event to stir up a little business.

When I think of Christmas around this time of the year, it's definitely too late to wait until the dog days of summer. In fact, just forget all about a Christmas in July sale. The time to start planning for the 2014 holiday shopping rush is now.

Start with this checklist now and you'll put yourself ahead of the game:

  • Have you reviewed last year's staffing process? Did you have enough people? Did you have too many people? How many will you need this year and where will you find them?
  • What product trends are going to be hot? What will you do to make sure you're not behind the curve when meeting your customers' wants and needs?
  • What's your marketing strategy not just during the holiday season but in the weeks and months leading up to it so that you make sure you stay top of mind with your customers?
  • What promotions can you do to keep clients coming back?
  • How can you make it easier for them to shop this holiday season?

It's never too early to start planning. And that's especially true when it comes to getting ready for a strong Christmas sales season.

Plan wisely now so you can reap the benefits later.

Do it right the first time

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

I remember a story a friend who travelled through Ireland told me. He came upon a grumbling man repairing a stone fence. The Irish man said “If my great grandfather had done a better job the first time I would not have to fix this fence.” Sustainability often starts with doing it right the first time!

Brick wallBrick walls with brick caps do not work in our climate. Great for Phoenix, but the freeze-thaw cycle here rips them apart. Water gets into the wall through the joints on the top and slowly breaks the brick. The DO IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME SOLUTION: Make sure the top is stone or concrete and slopes to drain. You should also put flashing under the cap.

Rusting lintelsEvery window in a brick wall usually gets a steel angle lintel to support the brick. Problem is most of the time they rust and fall apart. Almost impossible to keep painted and the fix is costly. The DO IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME SOLUTION: Make sure the lintel is galvanized and you will never have to worry about it. You don’t even have to paint it!

Corners of gypsum board walls are susceptible to damage as they get banged from carts and other things. Some of my clients want to use those big ugly vinyl guards used at hospitals. The DO IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME SOLUTION: Make sure the drywall forms a solid corner before the metal corner goes on. The metal is only as good as the solid backing behind it.

Got any do it right the first time tips? Send your thoughts to rsmith@smithmetzger.com.

Allocation of the sale price when buying or selling a business

Steve Sink is the founder and managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd.

Picture of Steve

Most businesses are made up of different types of assets, and those assets get different treatment for tax purposes. How those items are identified at the time of the sale/purchase can have a significant tax impact on both the buyer and the seller. A seller will, of course, want to designate items into classes that will yield a long-term capital gain on sale and thus provide the best tax result from the sale. Whereas the buyer will generally want to designate the purchased items into classes that provide the biggest up front write-offs.

The IRS generally does not care how the class allocations are made so long as both the buyer and the seller use consistent treatment and use GAAP as a guide. That is where IRS Form 8594 comes in. The form allocates the entire purchase/sale price of the business into the various classes of assets; both the buyer and the seller are required to file the form with their tax returns. It is also very important that allocations be spelled out in the sale/purchase agreement and the treatment must be consistent between the buyer and seller.

Generally, assets are divided into the seven categories very briefly described below:

> Cash and Bank Deposits
> Actively Traded Personal Property & Certificates of Deposit
> Debt Instruments
> Stock in Trade (Inventory)
> Furniture, Fixtures, Vehicles, etc.
> Intangibles (Including Covenant Not to Compete)
> Goodwill of a Going Concern
 
A seller would prefer to designate the major portion of the sales price to goodwill and minimize any allocation to furnishings and equipment. Why, you ask? Because goodwill is a capital asset, which for federal purposes will be taxed at a maximum rate of 15%, while the furnishings and equipment can be taxed as high as 35%. On the other hand, the buyer would prefer to have as much as possible designated as furnishings and equipment, since they can be expensed or written off over a short period of time (usually 5 or 7 years) as opposed to a 15-year amortized write-off of the goodwill. 

Whether you are the buyer or the seller, don’t leave the asset allocations to chance. Negotiate the allocation as part of the sales agreement. If you don’t, you could easily end up with inconsistent treatment and potential adjustments by the IRS. 

If you are anticipating a sale, please contact your CPA to assist you in structuring the transaction to your best benefit.

Feel free to contact me if you have questions.

Steve Sink

Certified Business Intermediary

ss@phxaffiliates.com

Do you have an ebook in you?

BooksOnlineDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

Ebooks are smart marketing. Here are some of the benefits of creating one:

  • Attract prospects
  • Share your expertise
  • Builds a mailing list
  • Establish your thought leadership
  • Help potential and existing customers
  • Stand out from your competitors
  • Generate word of mouth marketing

And the best news is…. if you want to, you can create it completely on your own. Many companies use their ebook as a lead generation tool, trading helpful content for a prospect’s email address. Others will sell their ebook on their own website or places like Amazon.

Whether you give it away or sell it, the key is creating something of value. Here are some tips for making that happen.

Write what you know: The whole point of creating an ebook is to share what you know to demonstrate your expertise. So don’t stray from your expertise. Pick a topic that is in your sweet spot.

Don’t be stingy with the insights: I know it goes against your grain to give away what you sell but I promise, they’ll still come to buy even if you give away the goods. But if you don’t give away the goods, your ebook will be a flop.

Make it pretty: One of the things that separates a good ebook from a white paper or just a plain old PDF report is how it looks. Use visuals and a sense of design to lay out the book so it reflects your company’s brand and the content. Don’t forget how many of us are visual learners so infographics, charts and other visual teaching tools are a nice addition.

Break it up: If the idea of writing a book is daunting (remember, an ebook can be any length) then break it up. Write the sections or chapters as blog posts or stand alone articles and then weave them together. Or assign different people in your organization to write different sections.

Maybe it’s already written: You’ve probably written many reports, proposals, blog posts and presentations. It could be that the germ or most of the contents of your ebook are in one or more of them. Re-purposing content is a great way to save time and emphasize some of your time-honored wisdom.

Promote it and promote it some more: The internet is definitely not a world where if you build it, they will come. Once you have the ebook online and available for download or purchase — you need to tell the world. Use both digital and traditional methods of driving traffic to your masterpiece.

I know there's an ebook or two in you.  Why not start it today?

 

~ Drew McLellan, Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

 

 

 

Meetings are better than cards

470Danny Beyer is a sales executive at Kabel Business Services. He is a serial networker and often speaks about networking tips to groups in the community.

When I first started building my professional network I used something called the "shotgun" approach.  

The rules were simple. Put fifteen business cards in a shirt or suit pocket and stay at the event until all fifteen cards were gone. The additional challenge was to try and collect as close to fifteen cards from other people attending the event as possible. The event was deemed a "success" by getting rid of all of my cards and collecting those of others. Any count over 10 was a good use of time. Any count under five and the event was a complete waste of time, or so I was taught.  

It was easy for me to approach people and trade cards. I happily came back to my office each afternoon with a stack of business card and carefully entered them into my database. At the end of my first month I marveled at the collection of business cards and the "success" I had with networking. But there was one problem. Sure, I had a great stack of cards and hundreds of individuals in my database, but I had no sales. I had no meetings. I had no prospects. I had no relationships.

That's when I realized that shotgun networking simply wasn't going to work for me.  

The next event I attended I made it a point to meet one person that I could set a meeting with before I left the event. I was apprehensive and a little nervous because up to that point my entire strategy had focused on getting in and out of conversations as quickly as possible. Now I had to sustain conversations and ask for a meeting before entertaining a new contact. To my surprise, it was easier than I thought. The first person I talked to agreed to have coffee with me the next day. Turns out people really do want to connect and get to know others. Who knew?

Since that time I've had hundreds of meetings scheduled during networking events, some of which have ended in business and others that haven't.  

I challenge any business card collectors or "shotgun" networkers out there to give this approach a try. Try to meet someone and set a follow-up meeting during the event. In the end it's a lot more fun to actually connect with people than stare a desk full of business cards.

Loyalty! The new Customer Satisfaction

Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals, a startup company focused on helping businesses gain referrals from customers.

In business we are told that customer satisfaction is paramount to the success of a company. The customer is always right (within reason) and if they leave with a smile you have done your job. They will surely come back, and bring their friends with them, right? Sadly that is not the case - in fact, although customer satisfaction is important, it does not guarantee more sales. The truth is happy customers are merely precursors to what is really important - customer loyalty.

So what is customer loyalty, anyway? Harvard Business School defines it as customer behaviors, rather than attitudes. Collectively, it is interpreted as the three Rs: retention, repeat business, and referrals. In layman's terms– loyal customers make your company more money.

CustomerLoyaltySo what’s wrong with customer satisfaction?

Known loyalty expert Fred Reichheld reported in a Harvard Business Review article that between 65% and 85% of customers who defect said they were “satisfied or very satisfied” with their former supplier.

Don’t get me wrong: customer satisfaction is important. But it alone does not yield dollars. I like to think of it as a prerequisite to customer loyalty. Like your Philosophy 101 class in college. Whereas by achieving customer loyalty you have progressed through the 300 level courses and are well on your way to becoming the next Descartes.

I think, therefore I am

Unfortunately, in business, you cannot simply will your loyal customers into existence. In regard to referrals, studies show that the vast majority of “satisfied” customers reported a willingness to recommend services to others. But guess what? Most don’t. The responsibility lays on the company to make sure their customers refer them.

It starts by making your customers smile. Next is the proactive approach of converting those beaming comrades into devoted advocates.

Ask for testimonials

We all know that testimonials serve as written validations and promote social proof for a company. “Come on, everyone’s doing it!” But those testimonials you have scrolling on your website actually have quite the impact on the author as well. First, people like to stay consistent with what they have said. And by writing a testimonial for the world to see, they have formally stood behind your company. This promotes customer retention. It would seem pretty silly for someone to leave a great company based on a nominal price increase. Pretty shallow, wouldn’t you say?

Testimonials also serve as a rehearsal for verbal referrals. Get them used to talking good about your company - it doesn’t matter who sees it. Chances are they will recall their charming words during a fitting conversation.

Here’s how. Email your customers and ask that they provide you with a testimonial. Yes, it’s that easy. Increase response rates with a witty subject line. I’ve seen a 40% response rate with “John, we have 2 questions for you”. Timing is also important. Follow a positive experience, interaction, or ask new customers for best results.

Do something extra

Providing satisfactory service may yield customer satisfaction. Going beyond expectations will likely yield customer loyalty. Apple Inc. does this consistently by innovating products that wow their customers. A computer is supposed to compute. I can check email on a vintage PC in a small town library (you know, the ones with the old flip-down monitor protectors). I can leave feeling satisfied, but I am not going to rave about it to my friends. But when my MacBook allows me to sign a PDF document using my webcam? Now that’s cool.

It doesn’t matter if you offer designer jeans or insurance policies. Exceed expectations to the point that people can’t shut up about you. This requires doing the unexpected by offering surprises and service outside the scope of your product. It doesn’t take a big change. It could be as simple as writing a handwritten note saying thank you. The good news is that even the unexpected can be automated. At Rocket Referrals we developed realistic handwriting tech for this purpose. The point is, if they don’t see it coming it will have a memorable impact - such an effect that they tell others about it.

Develop relationships

Business with the customer extends past the transaction. Exchanging currency for products or services alone establishes a superficial relationship based on, well, money. Companies that stop here are easily forgotten. Create an ongoing relationship with the customer. By serving as a loyal provider to the customer you can expect the same in return.

This is accomplished by doing what you can to avoid offering monetary offers outside the initial sale. Enticing customers with coupons and incentives for referrals, for example, will make your customers feel like you are buying their love. Communicate with them as people, not dollar signs. Ask how you can help them - or their friends and family? Continue the relationship with followup communication. Touch them periodically and ask how you can help - not how you can profit from them.

Again, the goal is to establish ongoing relationships with your customers. They will reward you by sticking around and going to bat for you in the form of referrals.

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