Early in my career, I made the fundamental mistake of creating a marketing brochure that I chose because I liked it. The reason this was a mistake was because my target client was very different than me (if for no other reason than I was 22, and they were in the upper 40s).
I’m reminded of this time and time again when working with my clients. Constantly I hear “I like it” or “I don’t like it.” The challenges with using “like” as a filter is that: a) it’s a purely emotional distinction, and b) your objective in marketing should not be to create something that is liked. Rather, your goal should be to create something that is effective.
Your best (and often, only) competitive advantage is understanding your desired buyers better than they understand themselves. The job of your sales and marketing efforts is to demonstrate that understanding. That’s why the only “glasses” that should be worn and the only opinions that should be discussed, when discussing your business development efforts, are your customers.
One of the most frequent questions I get is how much should be spent on a marketing or sales initiative. Whether it’s a website, CD, brochure or any other communication mechanism.
While I don’t like the reference to “slick,” (which to me is negative), I think he means production value. The key is that when you go for “production value” (ie. I want this to look fantastic), then you have to go all the way – and that means spend the money and the time to make it work. Otherwise, focus on the content and make it real.
Early in my career, I received the warning – Beware of people who claim to manufacture antiques. From that day, I’ve always kept in the forefront of my mind that there are no “new ways” to make money. Sure, there are new ideas, inspirations and versions, but, at the end of the day, you make money by creating value and managing the cost side of your business well.
I realize that when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail – and in my case the nail is value creation. But, I think it’s important that we don’t lose site of the underlying cause for the financial crisis (it is a crisis, right?) that we are now in.
Too many companies have simply failed to create value – and the financial services industry is top among the failure list (they last real product they created was the credit card).
With today’s news about the government’s bailout of the banking industry, there are new calls to save us from ourselves. New forms of regulation are being called for – a restructuring of the fundamental capitalism paradigm. I don’t disagree that some things need to change (the way executives are rewarded for destroying businesses is at the top of my list). While I don’t know what the solution is, I clearly know what the solution isn’t.
We cannot solve our problems with top-down solutions. You cannot regulate value creation.
I’d like to leave with a couple of thoughts for those of us who want to get back to focusing on growth and value creation (and are concerned because of what we keep reading):
- We’ve been here before. Check out this post to be reminded just how similar this “crisis” is to previous ones.
- What makes America’s version of capitalism the best is that we allow major displacements to occur – we allow our Lehman’s to fail. While innocent people do get hurt, the fact is that when you try to limit the negative impacts too much, you fail to achieve equilibrium. Just look at how Japan failed to allow their institutions to fail and you’ll see the danger.
If you are a fast growth executive just keep two things in mind and you’ll be fine:
- Create value
- Manage your business well.
While I don’t enjoy the ride, I say good riddance to the vast array of companies of have gone out of business this year. Merrill Lynch, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Lehman, Bear Stearns and I’m sure many others. Please know, I feel for the people that work there (I worked at Merrill, and I have many friends and associates who still work there and at the others).
Why so crass? Because all of these companies forgot that profits are supposed to come from creating value – not from manipulating transactions. The one thing every company I mentioned has in common is that they thought of profit as a number on a financial statement. They all failed to ask the questions: “How are we creating profit? Is there any real value there?”
Had they answered those questions, they’d still be around creating value for all of us.
I recently work with a client to help them take their go-to-market strategy and implement through the company. The time came to bring the message to the sales team, and (with very little surprise) we encountered resistance.
The salespeople did not like the hyper-focus we had created in defining:
a) who the target prospect was,
b) what compelling problems we solved, and
c) the focus of our message.
Their concern (at least as stated by them) was, “if I only focus on ‘that’ description, then I could come across someone who doesn’t have those problems, or at least doesn’t think they have them; whom we could help. If I do that, I’ll be missing opportunities. I think we have to be more opportunistic.”
As I’ve written before, I’m as opportunistic as anyone out there, but I’ve learned (the hard way) that opportunism is often a recipe for frustration. So I’ve determined that there two types of opportunism – strategic and tactical. Strategic opportunism is good and is the key to driving growth. Tactical opportunism is bad – it distracts and reduces the impact of effort and wastes resources. Too often, executives use the term “opportunism” to justify foolish actions.
Strategic opportunism occurs as companies gain increasing insights into who their customers are and what their high probability worry-list items are. When companies are maniacally focused on seeing the world through their clients’ eyes, they see opportunities before their clients, or their competitors, do. When those opportunities match up with a company’s capabilities and their Money-Making Machine™, advantages are created.
Tactical opportunism is just another word for trying to be all things to all people. It sounds good on the front-side – after all, who wouldn’t want to sell something to someone that could of benefit?
How can tactical opportunism be bad?
Every company falls into one of two categories – best or “me-too.” Only about 5% of companies are able to achieve “best” status. Rarely is the failure to achieve “best” the result of a lack of capabilities. Far more often the cause is a failure to focus on being the best at something. Companies try to do too much, and salespeople try to communicate too much.
What the best way to navigate this trap? Narrow your focus, then narrow it some more. Once you are completely, totally clear on who your best clients are – and you are experiencing success in the market with that focus – it is safe to begin thinking of ways to expand your markets. If you narrow your focus, you will expand your yield. That’s right, focus on attracting fewer opportunities and you’ll end up attracting more good ones.
Failure to narrow your focus will leave you as just another “me-too.”
The hits keep coming. Recently I wrote about a the bad idea called Salesconx that lets people put their trusted relationships up for auction. Today, someone sent me a link for something equally deserving of criticism – Write A Book In A Weekend.
Yup, in one weekend (and for $97), you can have a book that (in the words from the website) can:
- Get more of the highly coveted clients you desire
- Charge higher fees—even as much as quadrupling your current asking price
- Establish your expertise overnight—expertise that you don’t have to explain because no one will question you
- Speak volumes about your professional knowledge and credibility—24 hours a day, 7 days a week!
I have written or co-written five books, four of which have been self-published. I am also in the process of marketing a book idea to publishers. Some may claim that I’m just “old school” trying to keep people out of my “club.” Others may claim that as someone who is self-published, I’m merely the “pot calling the kettle black.”
Let me be clear – I’m a big fan off authoring books (and blogs), and I endorse the idea of self-publishing (obviously). I also don’t have a problem with ghost-written books (some of the best books in the world have been ghost written and my company, Imagine, provides ghost writing services). The problems I have with this idea are:
- It’s a fake promise – there’s no way someone is going to be able to write a book that will deliver results in a weekend, and they shouldn’t even try. The focus of the offer:
A fill-in-the-blanks book template, already designed in “book format,” so you can craft your book in a matter of hours. (Remember the word game “mad lib?” It’s a lot like that!).
That’s the author’s words – not mine.
- It adds meaningless noise to what is already a crowded and noisy marketplace.
- It treats customers as unsuspecting at best, and stupid at worst. The idea that merely because your name is on a “book”, you become immediately transformed into an expert commanding “4 times what you used to charge” is absurd. It is true that authors get treated to (at times) unreasonably favorable treatment. The reason is because writing and publishing a book is hard work. It’s like a college degree – it doesn’t necessarily prove that your capable, but it does provide a degree of separation from those who don’t have it.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes of all-time. Former heavyweight champion, Joe Louis, once said, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” Just yesterday after making a presentation to CEOs, I was asked how hard implementing a particular idea would be. I responded by saying that anything easy doesn’t provide any value or advantage because everybody is doing it.
Look, I understand building thought leadership is hard. Randy Pausch, in his famous The Last Lecture talked about “brickwalls.” He said brickwalls of there for a reason – to keep those people who don’t really want something out. Brickwalls are your advantage – stop trying to bypass them.
So if you want to write a book (or do anything else), I encourage you to do it. But, give it the time that it deserves – and stop looking for shortcuts. You’ll be happier with the result.
I’ve been working with a number of clients who are all opportunistic. I like to consider myself as oppurtunistic as anybody – and I’ve learned that if you’re not careful that trait will kill your business.
Here’s my tip – stop doing something. Pick something that you think is important and make the decision that you are not going to do it. Take that time (and, more importantly, energy) and apply it to something else you are already doing (don’t add a new thing). I promise you’ll see better results – faster.
If you feel like it, share what you are going to stop doing in the comments section.
I’ve been working with a number of clients who are all opportunistic. I like to consider myself as opportunistic as anybody, and I’ve learned that if you’re not careful, that trait will kill your business.
Here’s my tip – stop doing something. Pick something that you think is important and make the decision that you are not going to do it. Take that time (and, more importantly, energy) and apply it to something else you are already doing (don’t add a new thing). I promise you’ll see better results faster.
If you feel like it, share what you are going to stop doing in the comments section.
It has often been said that sales is the world’s oldest profession (that’s just another form of sales.) I’ve dedicated quite a bit of my life to help (in whatever way I can) professionalize the sales and marketing industry. I’ve written about respecting your audience, telling the truth, doing something great, living up to your promises and simply doing good.
Every now and then, I see an example of bad selling that leaves me asking myself if I’m just “spitting into a headwind.” Last week, a friend and a noted Web 2.0 expert, Craig Stoltz, pointed me in the direction of (in his words) a “new sales-focused social networking platform.”
I’m nervous about sharing the name of this company, for fear of the old PR axiom: any press is good press, but I’ll risk it. Salesconx is a new online social networking site that allows people to buy and sell individual leads. It’s like traditional sales leads groups (where you trade your relationships with clients for other people’s relationships) with an online and monetary twist (think eBay). Here, you get to auction your trusted relationships.
I understand how difficult it is to get the time and attention from qualified buyers. I also understand the power of networking (though it is often practiced badly and becomes a significant time wasted) and how networking can support breaking down attention barriers. I’ve even embraced many of today’s social media and “Web 2.0” applications. I’ve always been nervous about them – hoping that their power would be used for good instead of evil.
However, as every day passes, I get increasingly concerned that the potential power that online capabilities bring to relationship building will actually make trusted relationships even more rare. Whether it’s the misapplication of LinkedIn’s recommendations or best answers application (great intent, but today you have people offering to trade recommendations with each other or fixing best answers) to this newest application.
I get why someone would create Saleconx (and I even understand why someone might fund it). I empathize with the unsuspecting salespeople who might be tempted to try to buy some access. However, I cannot imagine who would actually sell the trust and respect of their clients, friends and associates. This act should qualify for Keith Olbermann’s “Worst Person In The World.”
Let me be clear – the trust and respect of your buyer’s, friends, and fans should be the most prized possession you have. It’s called goodwill and if you look at any company that builds sustainable success, you’ll see that goodwill is the most valuable item on their balance sheet – even though you can’t touch it. As difficult as it is to build it, it’s is nearly impossible (and extraordinarily expensive) to regain after you’ve you blown it (just look at Starbucks).
Salesconx is a BAD IDEA!! As is the nature with most short cuts, whatever short-term gains it might bring, it will introduce tremendous long-term pain. Look, I know it’s tough to get the attention of your market today. As I said, I empathize with the desire to find a short cut. But please – PLEASE – don’t fall for this “fool’s gold.” The reality is access that is sold so crassly will not have the implied value that a truly mutual beneficial introduction will have. And, the more common this type of fake introduction becomes, the less valuable a real introduction will be (after all, how will the unsuspecting buyer know the difference).
There are only two reasons to utilize this type of interface. If you don’t feel you have the capability to sell, or you don’t feel your offering is really worth anyone’s attention, then I guess you’ll have no choice but to use this type of platform. If you fall into one of these two categories, please do me a favor – gain the skills or find a better offer to sell; but please – PLEASE – stop propagating the image of the salesperson who will do anything for a buck.