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On Building A Sales Organization – 1 July 20, 2013

Posted by David Dirks in Building A Sales Organization, Sales Management, Sales Strategy/Tactics.
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David Dirks

David Dirks

Note: This is the first in an ongoing series on building an effective sales organization/team for a small business.

There comes a time that some successful small businesses find themselves in.  It’s the time to consider the need to build more revenue by engineering a sales organization.  What does a vibrant, dynamic and proactive sales force give you?  How about the ability to scale your revenues by adding more boots on the ground?  Now I’m NOT talking about going from 1 or 2 sales people to 20 overnight.  The first step is recognizing that the only way you can scale revenues in a northerly direction is by building a sales organization starting from ground zero.

But let me save you the money, time and resources it takes to build a sales organization and culture in your small business.  It’s simple from my experience.  If you are willing to do ALL of the following, you have the right stuff to really create a viable and revenue contributing sales organization whether with 1 or 20 people:

  • Willing to either hire experienced sales talent or willing to invest in the sales training required to help entry-level sales personnel become productive in a reasonably short time period.  Doesn’t much matter how great your sales opportunity is if you aren’t willing to either hire successful, experienced talent or hire the best & brightest entry-level talent – and then be willing to support them with the best-in-class sales and product training you can afford.
  • Willing to create a sales compensation plan that truly rewards people for their efforts but doesn’t leave them wondering how they are going to eat while they ramp up & beyond.  Whether you hire experienced or entry-level sale people, be prepared to compensate them within the range of what is at least the standard for you industry.  Going cheap on the compensation plan equals  consistently high turnover.  At best, you’ll be a good place for someone to get some training and experience before they go off and find a real sales organization to make a living off of.
  • Willing to support your sales team with the resources they will need to get the job done.  That includes providing them with professionally created sales collateral (brochures, catalogs, product info sheets, etc.) – and not material created by your niece or nephew who calls themselves a “graphic designer”.  Sure, they’ll work on the cheap for you but more often than not, their work is substandard.  Hire professionals with a bonafide track record.

So, if you’re truly committed to hiring quality, providing compensation that motivates and allows someone to earn a better than average living, and support them with the sales tools they’ll need to be successful – you can entertain building a real sales organization.

 

Betterment…Is A Strategy July 12, 2013

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, marketing, Marketing Buzz, Sales Strategy/Tactics, Sales Tactics.
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DirksProPhoto Why do people buy your products or services?  Are they forced to buy them out of necessity? Do you have a monopoly? Probably not. But understanding why people buy – and it’s often not on price – is one key to business longevity.

If you sell products or services that can easily be obtained elsewhere, why should they buy from you?  Think about yourself as a consumer for moment.  When you make a purchase – are you making it to contribute to a life of mediocrity?  No.  We buy things because of one basic reason: betterment.  I buy milk as a staple but the place I buy my milk is the place that offers me the best tasting milk at a fair price.  I don’t buy my milk anywhere else because I feel the milk I buy there is better for me and my family.

Betterment.  It’s a word…a noun to be exact.  Websters defines it as “becoming better” and “an improvement that adds value to property…”  Consider yourself “property” as a consumer.

As a business owner, your job is to convince the rest of the world (or at least your wedge of it) that your product or service offers someone a way to better themselves…their lives…their families.  In a world where everything seems like a commodity, your edge is communicating how your company delivers on improving something in the life of your customer and, most importantly, your prospective customers.  The success of your business model depends on it.

That said, if betterment was easy to define, everyone would be doing it but few are – just look around you.  Most business owners are stuck on price or try to differentiate based on product or service features or benefits.

Apple has long been a master at parlaying great technology and wrapping it around betterment.  Apple marketing and sales messaging is almost centrally focused on how Apple products enhance or better a life.  And they are able to deliver on that promise to (if you are a pc head, you don’t get this but we’re ok with that).

If you follow a blog, perhaps this one – you have the expectation that spending time here will better your life or business in some way, shape or form.  Otherwise, you wouldn’t spend you time on any blog that didn’t offer and deliver on that.  The most popular blogs are followed because people get something out of them (entertainment value, economic value, etc.) that they can’t find easily elsewhere.

The first step on the path of a message of betterment is to translate what your product or service does to get a customer there.  The destination is betterment.  For example, a landscaper cuts the grass and makes the property look great each week.  Where’s the betterment? How about the time it frees you from having to do it and spend more time on things you want to do instead – like spending more time with family.  By making your property look like an estate, you feel that your property and the quality of your life are enhanced (as opposed to looking at tall grass and weeds).

In other words, a betterment message is thinking of your product beyond the standard features and benefits it offers.  How does it translate – tangibly or intangibly – into a path to making some aspects of a customers life better?

The second step is making sure all of your marketing and sales messaging is zeroed in on the elements of betterment…clearly…concisely…and consistently.  You have to be able to draw a picture in the mind of the customer so they don’t need an algorithm to figure out why your product is the one they should buy.  They should “get” betterment.

Never easy to do but clearly worth the investment of time and effort to get there.  Betterment – it’s a strategy.

Iteration Is A Strategy July 1, 2013

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Dealing with change, Solving Business Problems, Strategy.
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David Dirks

David Dirks

Does the Facebook of today look like the Facebook when it was first launched in 2004?  Did Amazon perfect its business model of today in 1994 when Jeff Bezos founded it?  Is the IBM of today the same as the IBM of say 40 years ago?  Here’s another question for you: How many businesses hit a genuine business model home run where sales and profits start cranking out right from the start?

The answers to the above questions are “n0”, “no” and “once in a blue moon – if ever.”  To iterate is to keep trying – keep pushing your business model forward.  It’s tinkering with the engine until it sounds like all cylinders are working smoothly.  In some cases, it’s challenging the very dream we have hold so dear in our business – the very vision we have might not be the vision that produces the life blood of any business – greater sales, growing profits and cash flow.

Iteration is a process that should be integrated into the culture of most any organization but rarely is.  Here are some thoughts on the process of iteration:

  • Don’t get married to your vision or dream.  What? How can we achieve greatness without a vision we can steadfastly commit to?  It’s not easy – if it was then iteration would be a breeze and everyone would be doing it.  They aren’t – which is just one reason why many organizations fail within five years or less.
  • Business plans are like war plans.  Everything changes when the bullets start to fly.  Yes, I know you spent a ton of time working and toiling over your business plan and it’s a great starting point but…when the reality of the business environment hits it, it’s over.  Competitors don’t play nice or according to the plan.  Customers are more finicky than the business plan sales projections call for.  Things have to change when the bullets fly.
  • Not everything has to change.  Sometimes iteration means tweaking only what needs to be tweaked.  Keep testing, changing, moving forward – throwing out what isn’t working and keeping what does.
  • Challenge yourself to iterate on purpose.  When you realize that iteration is a part of your business life if you want to succeed for the long run.

When you build a business…it’s about the long run isn’t it?

Dave

The Rise of Lower-Priced Premium Quality May 21, 2013

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Sales Strategy/Tactics, Strategy.
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DirksProPhotoThere is a very distinct trend in product and service development today that I feel has major implications for businesses of all sizes and industries. It’s the idea that cheaper or lower-priced products are being design and built with far better quality than just a few years or even a decade ago.

Take the Ford Fiesta for instance. This is an economy car (lower priced, low expectations) that’s been around for a while but like the Chevy Cavalier or the Ford Escort, suffered from the traditional “low-priced, low-quality” syndrome. The 2012 Ford Fiesta is now a highly rated car (edmunds.com) with a still-low sticker price. To get the Fiesta to this point, Ford had to make a commitment with itself to find ways of incorporating select design & engineering elements from their higher-priced, higher quality brands and drilling them into the designs of their economy car line. And they still had to provide this economy car at an economy price (starting at $13,000).

For another example, both Hyundai and Kia had to learn the same hard lesson across all of their product lines when they came to the U.S. market just a few decades ago. Back then, both were the laughing stock of the car industry when they tried to produce less expensive cars in all categories but fell short with major quality problems. What they learned is that while some American consumers want to spend as little as possible…they still want to be able to show value for whatever money they spend. Now both offer less-priced cars at higher than average quality. A market strategy win for both.

Remember the Yugo? The idea was great – a super cheap car for the masses. Sure, you could buy perhaps three or four Yugos for under $12k all in but there was one problem. The Yugo broke down almost immediately upon trying to leave the dealership. That was the end of Yugo.

Let’s take wines as another example. There was a time when there was very cheap wine (Boones Farm Strawberry wine ring a bell?) or very premium wines (at $20 or more a bottle). There was little in the way of a great Merlot or a Sirah at $8 a bottle. However, for more than a few years now, consumers have been treated to a very competitive industry that has figured out how to provide high quality wines in the $8 to $14 dollar range.

So what’s this mean for you and your business? Here some thoughts:

– Do you offer lower-priced, higher quality products or services to you customers? The key is figuring out 1) which features & associated benefits from your high quality offerings can be 2) engineered into your lower-priced offerings.
– Check your competitors. Who is offering a slightly upgraded product or service at a competitively lower price? If I’m your competitor and I know I have to have a line of basic, lesser priced products or services for those customers who want them, my best strategy for outflanking you is to offer a slightly improved version. One that has the kind of feature(s) and benefit(s) often only found in the premium lines.

Consumers today are far less tolerant of cheaply priced, lower quality products than ever. Rest assured that there is still quite some amount of junk being sold as a product or service – but therein lies your competitive opportunity. Seize it.

Community Marketing: Fact vs. Fiction April 12, 2013

Posted by David Dirks in Community Marketing.
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David Dirks

David Dirks

One underutilized area of marketing is where a business supports one or a few local community events and/or organizations.  I say it’s underutilized primarily because most businesses I know are often not quite sure how to relate support with business needs.  Then there’s the issue of why it’s good business to support local organizations and what are the best ways to support them.  Here’s my list of ‘fact vs. fiction’ when it comes to what I call community marketing:

Facts:

  • Community marketing can be strategically important to a small businesses.  Sure, you can ignore the world around you but smart businesses who support community events and organizations reap the benefits of establishing additional good will and brand equity within the community.  Helping non-profit organizations in a real and genuine way raises your stature and your businesses stature in your community.
  • Focusing on the “giving” part means that the business benefits to you take care of themselves and accrue in different ways.  Most people can see through a person and/or business that’s clearly providing community support in the interest of only getting more business for themselves.  Be selfless in this case.

Fiction:

  • You have to spend money to support community-based organizations.  Yes but often they want your time as a volunteer to sit on a board or committee…they really could use your brainpower but the money helps too.  Perhaps you support them by lending them some manpower from your business for an event.  Whatever it is, it isn’t just about supporting with direct dollars.
  • Buying ads in community-based events will drive business.  No, it won’t.  You have better chance of winning the Powerball.  Why? First, ads in community-event flyers have a life expectancy of about 10 seconds.  Don’t believe me?  Where do you think these printed booklets often go?  On someones coffee table?  On their fridge?  Taped onto a wall? In their purse?  No, most are left on the floor or table on the night of the event.  Secondly, it takes more than one ad impression to get people to respond to your ad.  In fact, it takes at least 3 impressions to get anyone to notice you at all.  So you think that one 5 x 5 ad in the community flyer is going to drive your business? Make the phones ring?  Rookie mistake.  The real reason you buy ads in community events is TO SHOW YOUR SUPPORT AND PROVIDE THEM WITH A SOURCE OF FUNDING.  That’s it.
  • Advertising in community based publications is branding.  No, it’s not – at least not like Nike.  You’re not Nike and spending a few hundred dollars per year to maybe $2k or $3k won’t make you a household name either.  Why?  Again, because the life expectancy of most community publications is minute and the amount of people who actually bother to look at the ads is even less.  If advertising is your focus for branding or business development, you’re focusing on the wrong thing. Instead, build your business brand by building strong and positive relationships as you network through the community.
  • You should never expect any business resulting from your involvement in a community-based organization.  Wrong.  The difference is that you should never hold your support for any community-based organization hostage to your demand to drive business in your direction. People will see through your real motives and your reputation will be tainted as such.

Want to know how the real community players (I mean that as professional business people who are genuine in their support) get more business?  They network.  They development genuine professional relationships with other business people.  People like to support other people who have like-minded interests.  You can get more business by being a consistent and genuine supporter of community organizations if you focus on helping the organization and leveraging the relationships of the people you meet along the way.

Learning point:  If you want to meet other successful business owners and other key community influencers, working to help better community-based organizations is where you will find them.  Just look at the boards of some of your community organizations?  Whose on them? Losers? I think not.

Supporting community-based organizations can be a very smart investment of both time and money if you are genuine and really committed to helping them.

Driving Foot Traffic: Woolworth’s Style December 14, 2012

Posted by David Dirks in Driving Store Traffic, Retailer Store Strategies, Sales Strategy/Tactics, Solving Business Problems, Strategy.
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David Dirks

David Dirks

It took the latest issue of Businessweek to remind of that oftentimes what is new is old.  Case in point: the Woolworth’s food counter.  Remember (for those of you who are old enough to) the days when you local Woolworth’s store had a lunch counter where great, cheap hamburgers, fries and a great milkshake where just across from those square product bins that checkered the store?  Woolworth’s was a pioneer in creating a way to drive foot traffic with something that had nothing directly connected to the products they sold.  By having a soda fountain style lunch counter, there sales per square foot where for a long time better than average.

The lunch counter couldn’t save Woolworth’s from going out of business after decades of success but the idea of driving traffic by providing food lives on.  Nordstrom operates about 200 restaurants of one kind or another, including coffee bars.  Barnes & Noble developed its coffee bar concept to drive traffic and create a reason for people to hang around the store longer.  You’ll also notice that the coffee bar is a place where people meet to socialize.  They know what Woolworth’s long understood: The longer they stay, the more chance they will buy.

So am I suggesting that brick & mortar store owner rig up the BBQ and serve up some burgers?  Not exactly.  What I am suggesting is that in the battle of driving foot traffic it might be that food or drink (coffee bar?) might just do the trick.  As I always say, there is no magic bullet for creating foot traffic – only hard work and great execution wins the day.

What can you do to create ways for people to want to come to your store and stay a bit longer?  Think about it.

“Impossible” Is Just An Opinion December 6, 2012

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Solving Business Problems.
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David Dirks

David Dirks

Impossible.  The word that has closed more minds, doors and opportunities than any other I can think of.  “Impossible” is often a frame of mind and an easy, convenient door stop for shutting just about any challenge, idea, project or thought down.  Cold.

Of course, it was impossible for us to think of anything replacing the horse and buggy.  It was impossible that candles or whale oil could be replaced.  Impossible it was to think that man or woman could fly from one point to another.  Impossible that much medicine could actually fix a bad heart. Impossible that a man could compete in the Olympics with mechanical legs.  Just lot’s of impossibilities out there.

Did you know that Margaret Mitchell was turned down 38 times before a publisher said yes to her manuscript for Gone with the Wind? Or the more recent Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected 140 times before getting a publisher?  Steven King was turned down 30 times when he was trying to publish a manuscript titled as Carrie?  The great artist, Monet, had his artwork ridiculed in his day.

At what point do you think that any of these people thought it was going to be “impossible” to get that book published?  The first rejection or the 140th?  The answer is clear.  They didn’t see impossible at the first or last point of rejection.  What they saw in their minds was this:

What the mind can conceive, man can achieve.

Earl Nightingale

We can be thankful that there a few people in every organization that see beyond what many of us see as great, impenetrable walls of impossibility.  Next time you hear someone use the word “impossible”, just remember that what they really told you was that it is possible.

Seth Godin Gets It September 27, 2012

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Sales Strategy/Tactics, Strategy.
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As I write this post, I’m sitting in a classroom here at the Googleplex in NYC. Just heard Seth Godin (sethgodin.com) and as he was speaking, I wrote down several things (in paraphrase) that stuck with me. This is all in the context of how we become more successful in our business to help other businesses succeed:

What story are you telling?

Are you trusted?

The more you specialize, the more likely you are to solve problems.

What is your brand promise?

Shun non-believers

Are you selling scarcity or abundance?

———————————-

Get it? Think about it.

Where’s Your YouTube Channel? September 19, 2012

Posted by David Dirks in Becoming A Thought Leader, Digital Media Strategy, YouTube Channel Strategy.
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Do you have your own YouTube Channel for your business?  If yes, congrats to you as you are taking advantage of yet another great opportunity to expand you market presence and brand.  Oh, and you’ll be able to sell more products or services over time too.  If you answered that question with a no, then I can’t tell you how disappointed I am that your business doesn’t have its own YouTube Channel.

YouTube used to be the place were you could see cuddly little animals performing stupid tricks (or sometimes funny ones).  Or it was the place you’d find dumb pranks or really dumb tricks.  It still is but to a much lesser extent than before…especially when Google decided to purchase YouTube and make it part of its product family a few short years ago.  Since them, Google has really revved up the YouTube business engines.  The YouTube of today is moving in the direction of providing original programming, providing an expanded array of advertising options and now a vastly improved (and valuable) analytics package like its great Google Analytics does for websites today.

So, why consider building a YouTube Channel?  For one, YouTube represents a huge organic search engine with literally millions and millions of people scouring for information on just about any topic you can think of (that is legal and not pornagraphic of course).  Think of YouTube as you do with Google’s organic search engine.  Every day people are looking for information products, services, ideas on a wide variety of topics…including whatever it is your business does and how it does it.

I don’t care what business you are in, people are looking for real and valuable information that will in some way help them.  I can also tell you what they aren’t looking for: being sold a product or service…at least not directly like some carnival barker.

Want to see the emerging direction of YouTube?  Check out this channel:

http://www.youtube.com/howcast

Notice that Howcast has over 389,000 subscribers and over 650,000,000 views…something we marketers dream about.  Now, you might not have that many subscribers or views but you certainly can develop a large following in the context of your business model.

Here’s an example of a law firm that has developed a YouTube channel that drives between 30-40% of their new client flow.

http://www.youtube.com/sparandbernstein

Spar and Bernstein has 529 subscribers which is excellent but the telling number is the 742,000+ views the channel has had since it started in 2007.  The video on most of its 546 clips is not the best quality but that doesn’t stop people searching for information on immigration law from finding and watching it.  Brad Bernstein, who in my opinion is not only a top notch immigration attorney but also a marketing visionary.  In 2007, he decided to tape his daily radio show and then post the video clips of the show onto his YouTube channel.  The results over time have been spectacular in the context of driving real business to the firm.  And, if you watch the videos, they are educational as Bernstein is answer live questions from his radio show listener audience.

YouTube.  It’s not the old YouTube you used to know.
Watch for more upcoming posts on establishing a YouTube channel for your business.  You can do it!

Pivoting as a Business Strategy July 5, 2012

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Strategy.
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A Wall Street Journal article (‘Pivoting’ Pays Off for Tech Entrepreneurs, April 26, 2011) caught my attention.  What used to be called a “failed business idea” is now known as pivoting.  That’s when you have a business model and learn that it does not provide the revenues and profits you need to sustain it (or the venture capitalists who might back you).  Pivoting is the art of then taking the pieces of the business model that work and creating a new business model…even if that means going 180 degrees in another direction.

Pivoting as a business strategy is not new.  It just didn’t happen with much frequency until the advent of the web, apps and other such fluid technologies.  Now, if it doesn’t work, just pivot quickly to something else.  To me, pivoting makes sense.  If you start with a business plan and model that you learn has faults, you just pivot to another business plan and model.

Of course, pivoting is not easy and full of risk.  First, pivoting is an admission that your original business model is either failing or has already failed.  In the “old days” businesses that failed or were on the path to failing…just plain went out of business.  Secondly, you can’t pivot slowly.  If you pivot you have to do so with all speed.  Yes, pivoting is like changing the tire on a car that is still moving at highway speed.  You don’t have time to extend the debate on what in your business model stays and what parts get junked and replaced.  Third, pivoting doesn’t guarantee anything.  It just means you get to live and learn another day.

Pivoting isn’t new.  Thomas Edison pivoted more than 1,000 times before perfecting the light bulb.  Sir James Dyson created 5,127 prototypes before he perfected his bagless vacuum. Pivot if you dare.