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How to Position Your Business in a Recession May 29, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, marketing, Marketing Buzz, Recession: How to Beat It!.
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David DirksIf you want some great examples of marketing into the headwinds of a recession, look no further than the states of Michigan and Texas.  Michigan, a state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country because of a devastating hit in the car industry which is still unraveling as we speak, is marketing itself with gusto.  Have you seen the TV ads touting Michigan as a place to expand your business?  Or the full page ads in leading business publications like Inc. magazine?  I have and I’m impressed.

Texas is undertaking the same type of marketing campaign to spur economic development in the state.  So, while the world seems to be reeling from the brink of a complete economic meltdown (it isn’t over yet), these two states are spending some serious coin promoting their economic development opportunities.  Are they crazy?  Yes, crazy like a fox as the saying goes.

If you’ve read this blog long enough, you know that my strategy is to maintain a marketing investment in your business no matter what the economic times.  What Michigan and Texas are doing is taking advantage of the fact that they are about the only two states that are investing in marketing at this time.  This at at time when both states are facing major budget deficits.   The investment that these two states are making is an investment into their future.  Here’s what will happen.  When the economy eventually returns to the positive, Michigan and Texas will be what we call ‘top of mind’ in the minds of businesses who are looking to expand their facilities and operations.  They are literally planting seeds of future economic development in their states when everyone else is holding back.

Planting seeds of future business through a consistent marketing investment is much like a farmer planting seeds for his next crop.  After planting the seed, nothing much seems to be happening on the surface.  Days will go by and you won’t see anything coming up through the soil after the seeds have been planted.  Does the farmer worry?  Nope.  The farmer knows that underneath, where the naked eye cannot see, the seeds are germinating and beginning to expand.  Soon, when the time is right, the seeds transform into plants.  In time, these plants produce the material which can be harvested.

The same goes for what Michigan and Texas are doing now with their marketing campaigns.  They are planting the seeds of their own future success and, like the farmer, are doing so because they know that they know the seeds will eventually produce a fruitful harvest.  In the meantime, most other states are holding back on the planting of any seed and not able to look beyond today’s dire budget crisis.

My own state if New York, with its own budget crisis, has taken the other road and has disappeared from the economic development map.  They’ve even cut back on the amount of personnel focused on growing its business base in the state.  On the surface, it looks like New York has no choice but to cut its own marketing investment in economic development because of a huge budget deficit.  What will really happen is that yes, the state will save a few bucks today but pay a larger price in the future when the economy starts to roar back (I’m an eternal optimist!).  New York state will be trying to play catch up but will find itself behind the curve and behind states like Michigan and Texas in terms of attracting businesses to their states.

Michigan and Texas do what the Big Dogz of top performing companies do as a routine: they invest in themselves regardless of what the economy is doing knowing they will reap a larger reward in the near future.  It’s a lesson that all other states should heed.

PS:  Another thing about Michigan and its current marketing campaign.  They use actual success stories in their ads to validate their positioning that Michigan really gives businesses “the upper hand”.   That’s another feather in their cap.

Communication best practices for the Global Team Leader May 20, 2009

Posted by rickbron in Bronder On People, Communication, Effective meetings, Global communication, Global leadership, Leading globally.
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In this entry, I will complete discussing the best practices for the remainder of the global communications technologies.

 Telephone call

The Big Dogz use the telephone call when there is a high interpersonal component to the message. We want to take advantage of using the tone to add value to our effectiveness in both sending and receiving messages.

  • Make a plan. Sketch out how you want the conversation to proceed. What information do you need to convey or acquire.
  • Practice the call. If this is a very important call, invest a few minutes in practicing what you will say.
  • Use paraphrasing. Periodically, summarize what you have heard and ask the listener to summarize so you can check if you are communicating effectively.
  • Have a picture of the person you are talking with in front of you. Focus on the picture while you talk; this will keep you from multi-tasking and will help you remember you are talking to a person.
  • Follow up any agreements or commitments with an email. Review the email with the person before you send it to others.

 Teleconferencing

The Big Dogz use teleconferencing to communicate with groups of people about complex issues.

  • Publish an agenda prior to the teleconference
  • Encourage people to share pictures of themselves so they can put a face to the voice
  • Distribute any presentation material in advance
  • Ask everyone to introduce or identify themselves when joining the call
  • Have anyone who speaks to identify themselves before saying their piece
  • Identify conference protocols like when to speak
  • Be aware of cultural difference in telephone etiquette
  • Use paraphrasing to facilitate understanding
  • Take notes on key decisions, key information disclosed and any action commitments made. Send this document to the teleconference attendees for validation before sending to people outside the call

 Groupware (Webex, Live Meeting, etc)

The Big Dogz use groupware to take advantage of the visual as well as the auditory cues in global communication. This medium is ideal for communication that is complex and requires a significant interpersonal interaction. All of the best practices for teleconferencing apply here as well. In addition:

  • Use a webcam to show a video of yourself. It is amazing how much more attentive people are when they can see you. If possible use webcams for all the people in the meeting. Of course when you get more than three people in the meeting, it can get confusing moving all the video around.
  • Have a list of all the participants and track how much they are engaged. When you see someone’s engagement get out of proportion, take corrective action to address the issue.
  • Take advantage of the features of the virtual meeting service. Providing materials, setting up assessments and surveys are some of the excellent tools available. Most services allow the participants to use a chat feature. Make use of this feature to capture ideas and discussion points. Once the session is over, you can send the chat file to all the participants.
  • Have a word processing document available for capturing the minutes of the meeting. Update it dynamically and at the end of the meeting, review it then send a copy to all the participants. I have attached a Word file you can use for capturing information about your virtual meeting. Please feel free to use it.

 Videoconferencing

The Big Dogz use video conferencing when communicating complex information with larger groups requiring a high level of interpersonal interaction. All of the best practices for the face to face meetings apply here. In addition:

  • Be aware that video technology may not appear smooth. The technology has advanced well enough to provide television quality video; however, these levels of sophistication require enormous bandwidth capabilities and may not be available at your installation.
  • Use the video to focus in on the speaker so that we can take advantage of tone and non verbal cues.
  • Share the time in the video close-ups.
  • Remind people that unnecessary movement detracts from people’s ability to focus on the meeting.
  • If your videoconferencing system has a “self view” function, use it to see how you are being seen by the people at the other end of the conference.
  • Once you make the adjustments for optimum video and audio components, leave them alone. Constant changing of the focus or sound levels can be distracting.
  • How you dress can be important in a videoconference. Light clothing is more effective than darker clothing.
  • If snacks are being provided at some locations and not others, have them out of camera range.

 The Big Dogz know that communicating effectively in a global team environment is difficult. By using these best practices, you can be one of the Big Dogz.

meeting documentation

Webinars: The Ugly, the Bad, and the Good May 15, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in marketing, Marketing Buzz, Recession: How to Beat It!, Sales Strategy/Tactics, Sales Tactics.
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David DirksAs a marketer, I just love the internet for the power that it allows us to harness and leverage.  It allows us to conduct market research, design market strategies  and tactics, create products & services, interact with our customers, check up on our competitors…and more.  All this in a collaborative package that allows us to share and exchange ideas freely and across the world.  The impact of the internet on marketing alone is just breathtaking.

One outgrowth of web marketing is the webinar.  It comes in all kinds of flavors but after having sat through more webinars than I can count over the past two years, they only come in three basic flavors.  The ugly, the bad, and the good.  And yes, I reversed the old cliche!

The ugly webinar is ugly because it’s execution is ugly.  The presentation is enough to make your eyes bleed.  The facilitator sounds like they just pulled a stranger off the street and gave him the controls.  Ugly webinars are ugly but I won’t necessarily hang up.  Being the optimist that I am, I’m always hoping that I’ll be able to find enough kernals of insight and knowledge that it is worth sitting through this thing.  It’s a risky proposition but sometimes I get lucky.  Even if I attend a really ugly in-person seminar, I’ll work hard to find information I can put to good use.

That brings us to the bad webinar.  These webinars are bad because they oversell the benefits of what you’ll ‘learn’ and package it in a very well design webinar.  The only problem is that there’s no ‘meat’ in this webinar.  It was put together by some marketing and sales people who said to themselves, “hey, we can take our sales brochure and turn it into a webinar.”  These guys want to ride the wave of webinar popularity and get in on this thing too.  For those of us listening and watching this webinar, we smell a rat.  They’ll tell you there is meat in this webinar but all you’ll get is processed cheese.  After about 30-60 seconds of the bad webinar, you can safely hang up.  The bad webinar is bad not because it doesn’t look good or the facilitator isn’t professional, it’s because they created the Gordon Gecko of webinars.  All grease, well-dressed, slick, and very thin on character.

I’ve saved the best for last.  The good seminar is good because it delivers a meaty presentation that is full of excellent insights and information.  Makes you think about things differently.  The good webinar delivers on what they promised in their email pitch.  I feel like they actually went above and beyond that.  I could pay for the good webinar because it over-delivers and blows my expectations out of the water.  The good webinar is well designed and presented in a concise and well facilitated manner.  A really good webinar gives me a nicely designed workbook that I can keep as well.  Although there is a timeframe for the good webinar, nobody seems too worried and they answer almost all the questions that we listeners have.  Do they sell?  Sometimes yes and sometimes no.  If they do sell during the webinar, the % of information to sales pitch is about 90%/10%.

If I was to put a number on where I think all the webinars I’ve attended fall into it would look like this:

Ugly Webinars: 40%

Bad Webinars: 50%

Good Webinars: 10%

Yup.  That’s about where they stand.  As usual, there are only a few who really understand that we, the participants, are not as stupid as we look.  We can smell when something is bad and we can see when something is ugly.  That makes those who have good webinars stand out from the crowd.  That’s called differentiation.

Instant messaging best practices for the global team leader May 12, 2009

Posted by rickbron in Bronder On People, Communication, Global communication, Global leadership, Grow your skills, Leading globally, Management, Networking, Uncategorized.
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When the message is urgent and simple, the Big Dogz use Instant Messaging (IM) to communicate.

 Some of the advantages of using IM are:

  1. It is quick, saving time that can be used for other tasks
  2. Using an IM option, you can save the conversation for later referral. This feature eliminates the need to call someone back and ask the same question again!
  3. It allows people to work on important tasks while waiting for an important asynchronous interrupt from colleagues or clients.
  4. If a person is busy working on that high priority project you want done NOW, others know to leave that person alone.
  5. It allows you to communicate immediately to everyone at once.
  6. Studies have shown that when IM is used, email traffic goes down; sometimes significantly.

 Here are some tips to using IM to help communicate with your global team.

 Define a policy for IM use. You as the leader can establish guidelines on how and when the global team will use IM. However, do not be so inflexible that your people think you are inhibiting their creativity. Periodically review your policy to make sure you are getting maximum advantage of IM. A good starter policy is to use IM for quick information about project status, meeting times or if a person is available.

 IM should never be used to transmit confidential or sensitive information. This type of communication is high on the interpersonal scale and the complexity scale. Face to face communication is the most effective followed by the telephone call.

 Create criteria for people to be added to “buddy” lists. Separate business contacts from personal, clients from team members, etc. to avoid the possible conflict of interest in an IM situation.

 Make you team aware that all IM conversations will be recorded to facilitate archiving of essential information.  IM is not to be used to disparage others or to complain.

 If you decide to use the file attachment feature of IM, make sure you have the appropriate security measures in place. If you do not understand this comment, check with your IT support group before you attempt to allow file attachment. Failure to follow this tip could result in serious damage to your team.

 Depending upon the IM software you use, there is some exposure to non-intended people seeing your IM’s. Include in your policy a prohibition of using IM to send phone numbers, passwords or other sensitive information.

 Keep IM communication short. IM is an effective communication technology for urgent and simple information. If an IM session becomes more complicated, move it to another communication technology up the scale. A conference call would be an effective choice. With the communication technology awareness of today’s global worker, a virtual meeting might be even more effective.

 IM can be an effective way to set up a discussion or a phone call. A global team leader (GTL) in one of my workshops gave this tip about using IM to communicate with a global team member (GTM) about a complex issue. Here is the IM conversation:

GTL: Are you there?

GTM: Yes

GTL: Do you have 10 minutes to discuss “complex issue?”

GTM: Not just now, how about at 1030?

GTL: Great, I will call you at 1030

GTM: OK

It is simple and it is really effective. Using an IM in this manner demonstrates respect for peoples’ time and still communicates the urgency of the situation.

 One of the most effective features of IM is the ability to set your status to “busy” or “not available”. When you send an IM and get one of these responses, leave a short message stating your purpose and when you need a response. When you can not be interrupted, set your presence indicators accordingly. When you do become available, reset your indicator.

 Always check to see if someone has the time to chat with you. If they don’t, respect that judgment and make an appointment.

 When you are engaged in an IM session, give the other person(s) an opportunity to respond. This conversation is just like a face to face conversation; people need time to process your requests.

 Use proper English. IM has spawned a whole new language complete with emoticons, abbreviations and jargon. This is fine when communicating with friends but is not effective in a business environment. Of course, the use of common terms within your global team is appropriate and can facilitate quicker communication.

 I ran across an excellent article on using IM. The article is written by Stowe Boyd and is useful for the novice as well as the expert IM user. It is worth a read:

 http://www.stoweboyd.com/message/files/EIM.pdf

 The Big Dogz know that with the global distribution of team members, global team leaders need to take advantage of fast and effective communication technology like Instant Messaging.

 What are some of your tips for using IM? What things do people do with IM that drive you nuts? Please respond to this post or send me and email at rbronder@gmail.com

Voice mail best practices for the global leader May 7, 2009

Posted by rickbron in Communication, Global communication, Global leadership, Grow your skills, Leading globally.
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The next communications technology we will examine is voice mail. The Big Dogz know to use voice mail when the content is simple and we want to impart some interpersonal component like tone to communicate not just the information, but perhaps a sense of urgency with tone.

 

Here are some best practices around leaving voice mail:

 

  • Plan your call

Most of the time when we call people, we get voice mail. When leaving a voice mail, you want to sound professional. Before you make that call, sketch out what you will say. I recommend you actually practice your message before making the call. Once you get voicemail, you have a short outline and will leave a professional sounding voice mail. If you get the person, you now have an outline of the discussion.

  • Always leave your name and number even if this is a person you leave voice mail on a daily basis.
  • Keep your messages short
  • If you want the person to take action, give them enough information so they do not need to call you
  • If you can not leave a short message, leave a message for them to call you.
  • Speak in a pleasant voice; smiling can make a big difference.
  • Speak slowly and clearly; having to replay voice mails to understand you is irritating!
  • When you are leaving important information, lead with “Here is the information about the new client.” Then pause to allow the person to get something to capture the information.
  • Some voice mail systems will let you replay the message you want to leave. If you are fortunate to encounter this feature, by all means use it. Sometimes we are not aware of the message our tone or language is sending. If your message is not what you want to send, erase it and leave a different message.

 

Here are some tips for your voice mail greeting:

 

  • Keep your greeting short, simple and informative
  • Include your name or function.
  • Let the caller know that if you are out of the office , who they should call
  • Let the caller know when you will return calls. I will get back to you as soon as possible is not as effective as I will return your call within one business day.
  • Some people advise updating your voicemail message daily. I recommend a general greeting that applies everyday. There is an advantage to updating your message every day because it lets people know you are at business that day. Consider the options and choose what works for you.
  • If your voice mail technology permits it, give the caller an early opportunity to skip to the beep.

 

Finally, some tips about processing voice mail:

 

  • Set aside a specific time each day to empty your voice mail
  • Take advantage of technology that will send you an email alert when you get a voice mail
  • Having a voice mail inbox that is full, really irritates someone trying to reach you