Trade Shows: The Power of One Person (or “At least take my business card!”)

I recently attended the OC Largest Mixer event at the OC Fairgrounds. I was looking to connect with local freelancers who provide web design services, graphic artists and videographers.  The videographer is needed for a local women’s group, WomanSage.  I am on their board and we are looking into some testimonials and filming of some of our upcoming events. Well, I found a web design firm pretty quickly. They assured me they were, in fact, freelancers and would be happy to talk with me offline about their services. Great.  Got their card, gave them mine.  Image Display Group, by the way.  Eager to do business. Nice people.

Then, right around the corner, lo and behold a video company! A self-running demo flashed across a small laptop perched atop one of those cylindrical pedestals at the front of the booth. Two young women stood towards the back, chatting it up with each other.  Unnoticed I took a peek at the demo and waited patiently while they finished their conversation. I introduced myself, mentioned I was with a local womens’ group and was looking into creating some videos for their YouTube channel.  They appeared attentive so I ventured on to mention that we wanted  to start modestly, perhaps just a few filmed testimonials to begin with, but looking to build a relationship and hopefully grow.

Okay, I realize that I am not their ideal customer. A middle-aged woman representing a non-profit group.  Phrases like “starting modestly” and “a few testimonials”. Not something that brings out the band and marching elephants. Yet, with no other prospects in sight, I was surprised at the utter lack of interest! One of the women suggested I check with local colleges and find an intern (something I have already considered). I had to reach around her to get their card (not sure why I bothered, but it seemed like something one does at a trade show).  After a brief “Thanks, I’ll do that.” I walked away as they resumed their chat-up, moving a bit further back in the booth, so as not to be disturbed again.

I know trade shows — I get it. Hours upon hours standing and smiling. Endlessly repeating your value proposition.  Lots of dead ends. But this is 2012, not 2001. You need people. You don’t know who might bring you your next lucrative deal.

So, words of wisdom to anyone who has set up a 10 x 10 and hoped to come back with a decent ROI:

1)      People in front, always! Don’t “hide” in the dark.

2)      Stand apart, not together. You’ll appear more open to starting a conversation.

3)      No chairs. You might as well have a sign “I’m taking a break, leave me alone.” C’mon people, your prospects aren’t sitting down!

4)      Do not chat with each other.  Chat with your prospects.

5)      Don’t tinker endlessly with the demo software. That tells your prospect “I’m busy, this software is screwed up. So come back later.”

6)      Don’t ever let anyone leave your booth without getting their card and jotting a quick note (who, why, what). Then put it in your database. Done.

Why all of these rules? Because you don’t know who is walking up to your booth. You may not realize the power of that one person to influence another and so on. Perhaps that person is a middle aged woman, seeking services for a non –profit. But if it’s Susan Saldibar, she knows people, recommends businesses, talks with other companies, attends meetings and mixers and – you guessed it — writes blogs.

Today more than ever before, small businesses must use people power to build a pipeline and a reputation. Every person you meet has the power and potential to connect you with your next customer. So — small videographer — smile, be responsive, take my card and follow up with me.  Especially in this economy….you can’t afford not to!

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Six Signs It’s Time for a Website Revamp!

Websites matter now, more than ever. Even if you are active with social media, don’t forget that at some point, someone out there is going to want to go somewhere where they can find out more about your business. You website is your brand. You need to keep it clean, current and relevant.

Here are six signs that it may be a good time to re-visit your site:

1)      YouImage find yourself constantly telling your webmaster things like “Hey, can you add a page…” or “Can you add another link…” you may be at risk of ending up with a confusing site. Looks like you don’t run a tight ship.

2)      Broken links everywhere! It happens, and often you don’t realize how long a link has been inactive until someone mentions it. Looks like you’re not on top of things; bad reflection on your business.

3)      Every space filled with something — clip art arrows, all capital fonts, rotating signs and text….lots of text and animated GIFs. Looks messy and outdated, which makes your company appear to be the same.

4)      People start asking “What do you actually do?” If your site doesn’t articulate it clearly, your customers will be confused as well.

5)      Large date gaps in press releases. If you have a press release page and there are no new updates, postings or releases, either remove it or update it. Create an archive for press releases older than 1 year. If your last release was 6 months ago, visitors will assume that you, too, are frozen in time.

6)      When someone says “Your site is mobile responsive, right?” you say “What?” A majority of people now access to websites via mobile smart phones rather than laptops. Your site needs to be mobile-responsive or it will be very difficult for visitors to navigate.

People think that making changes to a website is a long, expensive and all encompassing project. It doesn’t have to be. It can be accomplished with a few people and a little coordination and objective input. You can start by reviewing your site map and looking for ways to re-organize confusing links and eliminate obsolete landing pages. Graphic-heavy pages can be cleaned up, adding more white space and removing clip art. Pages with old press releases and outdated material can be cleaned up. Your webmaster should be able to construct a prototype site to sample new pages and material before it goes live. With a little effort and attention you can start to turn your site from a graveyard of old content to a hub of interaction and involvement.

Start now!

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What’s Your Personality?

Many small businesses struggle with their USP or Unique Selling Proposition. That’s because it’s hard to get outside ourselves and see us as others do. There’s no avoiding it, you need a unique selling proposition and, in some cases, it might be as simple as injecting more of your personality into your business.

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courtesy of clipartworld.com

When I was a college student at San Jose State, we used to go up to San Francisco and frequent a particular Chinese restaurant. It was known, not particularly for its food, but for its waiters. They would toss menus as you and ask you to “hurry up, order”. Then they would continue to gently but firmly insult the customers in a way that was funny and very original. (Can you imagine the interview process there?) We loved going there and having menus thrown at us. One even hit my lip and it was sore for hours, though I’d never dream of complaining.

How did this restaurant evolve to adopt such an unusual USP? Somewhere along the line a customer probably laughed at a surly waiter and brought a friend in to experience the “audacity” of a waiter that told you to “hurry up, order!” As usual, the customers unwittingly were identifying the restaurant’s unique selling proposition. Admittedly, the uniqueness of the experience wasn’t for everyone, but they realized that there were enough patrons who appreciated it to form a strong, loyal customer base.

What’s your personality? Does it make your product or service different? Find a way to capture it, nurture it and weave it into everything you do. Celebrate it and ask your customers if they like that personality. Your customers always know best.

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Baker’s Dozen: 12 Things Every Small Business Can Do To Start the New Year Off Strong

Happy New Year! Okay, let’s get going.

Here are some really no-brainer things you can and should do to kick off the new year right!

1)      Business Plan: Does your original business plan still make sense? Review it piece by piece with fresh eyes. Invite a Board member to do so as well. This should be a living, breathing document. Revise, shift, act!

2)      Social Media: Focusing on the marketing section of the plan, identify where social media will raise your existing communications up to a more collaborative level with customers (read Brian Solis articles; they will stretch your mind in terms of understanding how social media should be used)

3)      Measure: Create metrics for tracking the value of all sales/marketing campaigns. Remember it’s not just how many trade shows resulted in sales. What about awareness? Today it’s about “big metrics”!

4)      Ask: Ask your customer service reps to create a short customer survey (Survey Monkey is free!). By short, I mean 6 questions or less.

5)      Communications: Decide to communicate with a customer every week. Not just a fix to a problem but to gain a deeper understanding of what they need to be successful; then where your product or service fits into that framework. Focus on their needs, not yours!

6)      Testimonials: Collect 1 customer testimonial per month (yes, these still work better than ads!)

7)      Case Studies: Write 1 customer case study per quarter (write it from the customer’s point of view; try to get into their world. It will be much more interesting that way and the customer will be more willing to talk about it to prospects!)

8)      Competition: Create a 1-page SWOT against each of your top 3-5 competitors. What’s their next move? They may be doing things you didn’t realize they are doing; update your records!

9)      Website: Ask at least 3 objective people to “walk through” your website and jot down what they like and don’t like. Share the results with your marketing team. Then do something about it! By the way is it optimized for mobile?

10)  Quality blogs: Ask your top thought leader to begin publishing a monthly WordPress blog on topics that relate to your mission statement.

11)  E-Letters: Start a monthly e-letter (fill it with useful information, not product hypes and ads)

12)  Community: At the very least, get involved in your local Chamber of Commerce. Think: helping other businesses get leads. Give and you shall receive! Try to identify at least one good cause to get involved in. Then make sure you really get involved! Ask your employees to help identify a local charity that makes sense for your company.

13)  Objective Outside expertise: Take advantage of Susan Saldibar Marketing Services 1-hour complimentary session. I can help you organize and executive the above!

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Cultivating Those ‘Crazy Ideas’ from Young Newbies. (First, bite your tongue.)

Do you ever find yourself glazing over when a young person, maybe an intern, starts waxing on about some new marketing concept or spewing forth a string of crazy ideas on how the website could be improved? You know all about it right? You’ve “tried that before” and “it doesn’t work” so they “can’t do it that way”. A condescending smile and the conversation is over, the intern shrugs and gives up. Everyone goes back to their boxes and business knee-jerks along as usual.

You’ve just missed out on a great opportunity. Stop and think back. If you’re over 40 and successful, chances are you once had a crazy idea yourself. You probably also had a manager somewhere along the line who told you “Hmmm. Interesting. Go make it happen.” After a few disasters, you started getting it right and your company reaped the benefits.

What may seem to you like childish, idealistic suggestions are in reality the fragile roots of strong, creative revenue-generating ideas. Cutting them off will only achieve the following:

  • Suffocate fresh ideas
  • Alienate young team members who will leave
  • Cultivate a culture of “yes men/women”
  • Stifle growth
  • Make the company less competitive
  • Make yourself tired, old and irrelevant

Instead, try the following, next time you are lucky enough to work with a young, enthusiastic marketer full of ideas.

Stop. Bite your tongue. Give them your undivided attention and listen. Then, when they have finished, have them do the following:

  • Write out their ideas
  • Take the top 2-3 (defined by them) and expand on them
    • Rough ROI (numbers are best, at minimum identify how they meet the department/company goals)
    • Short execution plan with timetable
    • Budget and resources needed
  • Set a day/time to present it to you and another senior manager
  • Note, you’re not looking for War and Peace; a few pages or PowerPoint slides will do. Enough to be able to evaluate each idea in context with the goals of the company.

What this accomplishes:

  • Tells them you take their ideas (and them) seriously
  • Encourages them to articulate and clarify their thoughts in writing
  • Lets them (not you) eliminate the really “crazy” ideas
  • Teaches them how to convert good “ideas” into revenue generating plans for company
  • Gives them visibility among senior management and credit for the idea
  • Builds mature management skills (theirs and yours!)

Companies cannot grow without fresh input, especially in today’s world. Young people have so much to contribute. Acknowledge that, don’t squelch it. By changing the way you respond to their ideas, you will start to build a culture that will stimulate the kind of creative thinking that gets results. As a side benefit, you’ll go a long ways towards establishing a loyal and secure team who will remember you as a great mentor and maybe even be referred to as a visionary.

So bite your tongue and cultivate those crazy ideas!

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What DON’T You Do?

Are you struggling to describe what your company does; or what you do for that matter? Sometimes the best way to define the unique set of traits that defines your company is to take it from the other end. Sit down and start peeling away the layers of what you don’t do. Make this list and you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to recognize that pearl in the center that uniquely defines not only what you do, but why you are truly unique. Don’t do it alone, by the way.

When you do these little brand-strengthening exercises, enlist the help of others in your organization, from the receptionist to your CEO. You’ll get great input and build a culture of collaboration.

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The Stuff of Marketing

The other day I had coffee with a friend who is a small business owner. He had his laptop open and logged onto his website. He said, “I want to show you something.” While it was loading, he reached into this portfolio and pulled out some brochures. He laid them out in front of me. They were tri-folds, very professional looking, all very different, but attractive retro graphics, colorful and fun to look at. The website came up; very different in look and feel with subdued tones, images of people smiling, fading in and out, with moving phrases. I guess my eyebrows sort of narrowed, as I tried to figure out what these pieces were all about.

“This is the problem!” He said pointedly. “We are doing lots of marketing….STUFF….we’ve spent thousands of dollars, but it’s not getting us anywhere!” He knew the problem and knew I would understand. You see, if you talk with a graphics designer, you’ll be told you need a new logo and brochures; if you talk to a PR agency, you’ll need an article and a bunch of press releases. So you often end up with lot of pretty STUFF, often with different tag lines, value phrases and all moving separately (and slowly) towards different goals.

Many companies are deceived by all this great looking STUFF into thinking that they are doing great marketing. It looks good, everyone likes it, and sales has a bunch of great brochures to mail out and leave behind at trade shows and mixers.

The truth is, and will always be, that great marketing doesn’t start with a brochure. It starts with a statement, or declaration, of what you do, the problem you solve or need you fulfill, and why you are unique against others doing the same thing. From this description comes your mission, your value proposition and ultimately your logo and tag line. That’s your brand, your “voice” that you will use to start a two way conversation with your customers. From your brand flows all the pieces that you will use to communicate; they are in sync with one another and with your unique value proposition. What’s unfortunate is that many companies never find their voice, because they can never really define what they do and why people will want to buy from them. So their communications pieces — the website, brochures, presentations — lack identity. Instead of being an integral of their communications, they become very pretty STUFF.

It’s never too late to identify your brand and find your “voice”. It’s not rocket science either. It takes a desire to revisit what is is that made your company special in the first place; verify it with some customers and craft a new and fresh vision of who you are and what makes you unique. Yes, you’ll still need the logo, brochures, website and all the presentations. But it won’t be STUFF.

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