Is different enough?

Without a doubt there is a conversation happening with marketing teams around the globe as I write this post trying to nail down differentiators. The more aggressive marketers might even be searching for “core differentiators” as if being different isn’t enough. Now we have to be different right down to our core.

Different is not good or bad. It’s not valuable or invaluable. Different is just, well, different. Who places a value on whether different is worth something extra, or worth something less?

Identifying your differences – or core differentiators – is a complete waste of time, money, and effort without first truly understanding your potential buyer. After all, who are you trying to appeal to with your differences?

Instead companies tend to begin on the inside rather than outside. Meaning, we tend to take the path of least resistance. Sitting in a conference room pontificating on why we’re different, and how much better we are than others does not get the job done. No. In fact, putting yourself in the market to truly listen to your buyers, and becoming vulnerable is what leads to innovation and disruption. Companies that do this well have no interest in being right….just in getting it right.

Does your buyer want different? What if all they want is better? Perhaps no one wants to relearn something entirely new. Perhaps all the buyer wants is for the “thing” they are currently using, to work better, or perform better. How do you know? Have you asked them? Have you asked enough of them to have a dependable sample size? Have you truly listened or did you embark on that research with a predisposition or set of biases? Were you tempted to skew the results to fit what you have in place?

In my book The Customer Mindset; Thinking Like Your Customer to Create Remarkable Results, I share an easy to implement process to map your buyers journey, starting with engaging your buyers and ultimately solving for the “so what?”. Yes, different can be better. The question is how much better, and does your prospective buyer care enough to pay for it?

When you look at your core differentiators, don’t forget to ask yourself (and your team), “so what?”

Stop Trying to Fit In and Start Being Remarkable

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Everyone wants to fit in. To be a part of the crowd. Some people go to extremes to remain invisible whether at school, the office, the gym, or anywhere else in pubic. Blending in is part of our culture. Why do you think brand names like Nike, Levi’s, Coke, Asics, Hollister, and Target are so valuable? They represent the main stream. Sure they offer quality and value but they also offer a strong emotional connection to safety. I’m safe if someone sees me wearing Nike, shopping at Target, or buying a Diet Coke.

But success doesn’t come to those who play it safe. Success isn’t for the faint of heart, or those who want to be part of the crowd. No. Success usually comes to those willing to take chances, to challenge the norms of society, to stand out and be remarkable.

Are you remarkable? Do you stand out at work or are you one of the crowd? Do your co-workers look at you as a thought leader? A progressive thinker? Or are you one of the many doers that get things done but not the one “cutting the edge?” Do you invest in building your personal brand? Are you working to create awareness around your ideas and opinions or are you silent, laying back, waiting for the next set of directions to come your way?

History is a great teacher of the correlation between remarkable and success. Thomas Jefferson, Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, and The Beatles all were remarkable for their time. Dimon, Reagan, Lincoln, and Gates made bold decisions, often unpopular, but remarkable in ways that led to great discoveries, financial stability, and peace through power.

We all have the ability to be remarkable. We may not all be Thomas Edison’s or Michael Dell’s but we each possess unique characteristics that if amplified make us remarkable. A great sense of humor, the ability to provide calm during turbulent times, or being able to rally people together for a common cause can be remarkable characteristics. What makes you remarkable?

Channel Sales – 5 Ways To Make it Work

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For years businesses have sold their products direct to the end-user. Going direct required staffing a sales force large enough to cover the geographical area that the business operated within. If it was a national enterprise it would recruit, hire, and build a national sales force with hundreds, if not thousands, of feet on the street. Direct sales has been the typical way to reach the buyers that fit the business’s buyer profile. Remember the Kirby vacuum salesman? Or how about the Tupperware lady? Or the milkman, or the Schwan’s salesperson who came to your door to sell grocery items from their trucks? Times have changed.

Today a more efficient, effective, and economical way to reach large groups of prospects involves developing and building a strong channel sales program. During my career I have built and developed a number of different channel programs across a variety of industries including; financial services, insurance, and business/professional services. Regardless of the product being offered, or the service being promoted, there are common characteristics to establishing high performing channel sales programs. Here are 5 things every successful channel program must include:

1. The right partner. Finding the right partner takes time, patience, and clarity of the objective. But the most important element in finding the right partner boils down to shared values and culture. Most channel sales programs die on the vine because the two partners do not align culturally. As you are seeking partners to work with be sure to inquire as to their company values. Many organizations post these values online. It’s a good place to start to be sure you are both operating from the same vantage point.
2. Clear value proposition. The essence of channel programs is to create a partnership that delivers more value when combined than either partner could deliver separately on their own. Whether it’s combining payroll with workers’ compensation insurance, or Hershey’s chocolate syrup with Betty Crocker brownies, the point is that the new product created is better than either solution sold separately.
3. Easy access. The customer has to be able to access your channel program with ease. Make sure you create a clear sales path for the buyer. Having well-defined roles and responsibilities for each channel partner is critical to ensuring a satisfied buyer. If the new program created by two channel partners is difficult to obtain or access, the program will fall under its own weight. Today many channel programs utilize technology solutions that provide easy access to their offering.
4. Reporting. A dashboard should be created that tracks, records, and reports key metrics agreed upon by both channel partners. Implementing a Quarterly Business Review (QBR) with each channel partner is an important element to growing and maintaining your channel programs.
5. Escalation Process. The best time to talk about what to do if problems arise is before a problem exists. Having shared vision between the channel partners as to how problems should be escalated including roles and responsibilities must happen as the program is being developed but before it launches.

By taking the time to work through each of these steps you will increase the probability of success for your channel programs while minimizing any risks that come with lack of clarity.  Let me know what you think!

The 7 Question Marketing Effectiveness Quiz

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Whether a start-up or mature, large or small, restaurant or manufacturer, Marketing plays a vital role in the success of every business.  And while specific tactics may look different depending on your product or service, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the return on your marketing investment.  Setting up a Marketing dashboard is critical to providing you with this insight.  To get started you will need to have a thorough understanding of your business, your customers, competition, overall marketplace economics and trends.  Getting started requires time, focus, commitment and most importantly a complete acceptance of reality.   Take the 7 Question Marketing Effectiveness Quiz below to see how informed and prepared you are to lead your team to victory.

  1. Do you have a written definition of what a lead is?  Many companies have no clear definition of a lead.  In many cases a name alone represents a lead.  Marketing may generate a name and provide it to the Sales organization to contact leading to a false sense of demand creation.  A name is NOT a lead.  However, YOU need to decide what a lead is for your company and obtain the agreement to that definition from others on the executive team most importantly the leader of the Sales team.
  2. How many channels are you working to generate leads?  Is it just a sales team?  Do you use your website?  What about strategic partnerships?  A multi-channel marketing strategy provides greater possibilities to expanding your company’s reach and distribution.  Additionally you will find that certain channels present higher close ratios or stronger average sales prices.  While managing multiple channels requires resources, and subject matter expertise, you will find this approach yields better results as opposed to a single channel approach.
  3. What is your ROL by channel?  Do you know what your return-on-leads are by channel?  For example, you have a direct sales force, a website, and a strong accountant referral channel.  Each day, week, month, you generate leads through all 3 of these channels.  What are the close ratios per channel?  What is the average selling price of your product by channel?  What channel coverts the highest rate of leads to presentations, and how many of those presentations result in a sale?  Having insight into your ROL will help you focus on making the improvements necessary to grow your business.
  4. Does your website have lead-conversion capabilities?  Is your website static or dynamic?  Is it set up using responsive web design (RWD)? Do you have a mechanism in place to track the incoming visitors to your site and follow-up with the appropriate messaging and content?
  5. How much content do you have on your site and how fresh is it?  Do you have a content management strategy?  Do you provide free content to those that visit your site?  How do you decide what content to produce?  Who writes it?  How often is it refreshed?  What do you do with the feedback you get from prospects or customers that download your content?
  6. Do you have a blog?  Many businesses feel they don’t need to blog because their product or service is in a class of its own and doesn’t require blogging.  That’s simply not true.  Every company can and should blog.  There are always topics relevant to your potential buyers for you to be blogging about.  Whether you sell party supplies, automotive repair, or chimney cleaning, your target market is looking for content.  Blogs are a great way to increase your internet search results and get you found faster.
  7. Who is responsible for Marketing?  If you can’t answer this questions with a name, find one quickly…even if it’s you.  Think of it this way…if you pay the bills for your business and keep your own books, you may not have the title of CFO but you know who’s responsible for the finances of your business.  Likewise, if you’re the one doing the marketing, you’re the one responsible for the growth of your business too.  Someone has to be accountable for Marketing otherwise it simply will not get done.

Your answers to these questions provide the insight necessary to begin to develop your marketing dashboard.  Let me know if this was helpful.

Buyer Personas. The Key To Sustained Growth.

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In my prior blog, 3 Philosophies of a Great Company, I wrote about the importance of knowing your customer.  We’ve all heard this expression before but many companies still struggle with the essence and simplicity of its meaning.  Knowing your customer involves having a thirst for knowledge, the ability to confront reality, and dedicated resources including time and dollars.  Those that embrace this strategic component are those that excel and succeed.

Using a buyer persona process is a great way to get to know your customer.   Companies like Sirius Decisions and HubSpot have invested countless resources in the development of creating a buyer persona process that drives new customer growth while improving the retention rate of existing customers.  When used effectively, buyer personas can become a powerful P&L management tool.  How?  Buyer Personas help to:

  1. Improve target marketing by aligning your product or service to the right audience.  If your product is geared toward SMB (Small-Medium-Business) or enterprise-size companies, your buyer personas will provide critical insights into the buyer behaviors of these specific segments.  Having a deep confidence in knowing your customer helps to avoid wasting precious time, and money, spent marketing to the wrong prospect group.
  2. Provide granular detail around how your prospective buyer thinks and gathers information.  How do they make their buying decision?  This information helps improve your ROI on marketing investments by knowing what to say, where to say it, how often to communicate your message, etc.  Keep in mind that each business could have more than one buyer persona.  A CEO, CFO, Office Manager, General Manager, all make decisions differently.  Why?  Because each have their own perspective from which they process information.  This becomes extremely important when determining where each of these individuals go to find information.  Sirius Decisions concept of “watering holes” illustrates the importance of knowing where to place your message – where your customers and prospects spend their time.
  3. Convert your value proposition into a high-impact message.  The strength of your value proposition is dependent upon how well your message aligns to the needs of your customer or prospective buyer.  You cannot succeed if your value proposition is disconnected from the buyers needs.  Therefore, having a completed buyer persona allows you to take your value proposition and craft it into a specific message that addresses the needs or pain points of that buyer.  Being able to demonstrate to the buyer your understanding of their needs, builds their confidence and, ultimately leads to their conviction to select you as their provider of service.

Think about the companies that really seem to know what the customer wants.  Companies like Apple, Toyota, Cadillac, Samsung, Proctor & Gamble, and Victoria’s Secret are all companies that have taken a buyer persona approach to growing their market share.  They invest heavily in knowing their customer.  They understand that what worked yesterday may not work today given internal or external influences to their market.  The key is change.  Seek it, drive it, embrace it, demand it.  Change is what drives innovation and innovation, if done correctly, drives growth.

8 simple steps to creating a strong brand promise

In my prior blog, How Difficult is it to Change Your Brand Promise, I talked about some companies that did an excellent job of delivering on their brand promise, as well as one company in particular that didn’t deliver on their promise.  A visible disconnect between your promise and what is actually delivered, many times is the fatal flaw that brings down a company.  Even companies who are considered “Great” by today’s standards can fall prey to a faulty brand promise.  Therefore it is crucial that you ensure your promise is aligned, and able to connect to your delivery.

Developing a strong brand promise requires attention to detail.  Having a process to follow as you build or revamp your promise is necessary to maximize your success.  Here are 8 simple steps to creating or modifying a brand promise:

  1. Involve key stakeholders – having the right people involved from the onset of this journey will help with alignment at the end when implementation is critical.  People are most likely to support something they had a hand in developing.
  2. Talk to your customers.  Not just your favorites, or the customers you know will say good things.  Test the waters using VOC tactics to obtain a broad and random voice.
  3. Understand your competitors.  One of the most commonly missed steps of the process.  Why?  Because most people/companies think they already know everything about their competitors.  Wrong!
  4. Size your market opportunity to justify a change in your promise.  Think Amazon Prime.  Amazon changed how merchandise was shipped.  They strengthened their promise but not before researching and understanding the potential takers for this service.  Earlier this year the Business Insider indicated Amazon had reached 10 million Prime members.  At $79 a year that’s not a bad addition to the top line!  All from taking the time to understand the market opportunity.
  5. Develop your core brand attributes and identify statement – value proposition.  If a core attribute of your business is “easy” then you need to make sure that everything you do checks back and balances to easy.  If you market an “easy set-up” and set-up is actually time and labor intensive you’re already disconnected from your promise.
  6. Establish an Advisory Group.  Create a Council or Group of 9 to 11 members…always an odd number to ensure voting efficiency on topics and items that require decisions.  Use this group to test attributes, messaging, and most importantly experience.
  7. Talk to your employees.  Too often companies exclude the “rank and file” from this work believing it is an executive function only.  The problem with this mentality is that it’s all wrong.  I have witnessed countless times when an employee reviews branding work and raises a topic or issue that no other executive caught because the employee is closer to the action.  Involve your employees and you’ll see results in improved morale, better processes, and overall better performance.
  8. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.  Once you’ve locked into your brand promise share it.  Tell your story.  And most importantly monitory your results.  Is our promise connecting?  How are our customers and prospects reacting?

I will post future blogs diving deeper into each of the above 8 steps.  Until then remember:  “Do what you say, and say what you do”.  That’s your promise.