Recently, I’ve gotten a number of questions from clients and others about effective social media. It seems a number of people a wondering if now is the right time to jump on the bandwagon.
Here are some of the highlights:
- Networking is networking. The rules for offline networking are precisely the same for online.
- The biggest mistake made with social media is that people view it as a strategy – it’s not. Social media is a tactic, used to support a strategy towards a specific result. If the result isn’t clear, the strategy will be bad, and your social media efforts will be useless.
- Social media is a horrible broadcast mechanism. If you’re think you’re going to use Twitter, Facebook or any other platform to tell the world what you’re doing, and that the world will then respond – don’t waste the time.
- Social media is good for connecting, engaging and pointing. If you’re not planning to actively participate, and build content to support your efforts, then you’ll be much happier doing something else.
All that said, social media, and by extension the creation of meaningful content to share, is increasingly becoming mandatory. Imagine the biggest conversation in the world taking place. You’ve got to answer a simple question – do you want to participate in the conversation or be left out?
If growth is imperative, the answer is simple. It’s the execution that’s tough.
As a result of a very successful first quarter, I’m in the midst of working with several new clients on their go-to-market strategy. A central portion of our process The INTELLIGENT GROWTH Blueprint is the development of an effective market message. Every time I go through this exercise with companies, I’m reminded why so few companies – I’d say somewhere around 5 – 10% – have an effective message.
The mistake that 90% of companies make is that they think that a message is merely the words you use to describe your company and get people to “get it.” I even had a client plead to me, “Just tell me what we need to say so that more people will buy from us and we’ll say it.”
Oh…If only it were so easy.
To be as clear as possible:
Your Message Is Not What You Say
Your Message is Who You & What You Do
It is only when you words completely align with who you are (Authennticity), the actions you take and the feeling people have about you that your message can truly resonate.
The biggest, most common and most destructive action made in messaging happens when you focus on the words or sales tactics first. You must first determine where you stand, who you are and why you should win before you can begin any effectively develop the words you will use in your message.
Great design is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take way.
We’re in the midst of several messaging projects with new clients. As I’ve written before, a message if far, far more than the words you use to describe your company.
That said the words you use are very important. They should serve as the focal point for the actions of everyone in your company. If everyone is clear on what you are trying to do, their creativity can be released and great things happen.
Therein lies the rub. The purpose of your words is to create clarity. The biggest challenge I see in entrepreneurial companies is their ability to create such clarity.
When I talk with CEOs and sales/marketing executives I share with them that the secret of great design is the secret of great messaging. Great messaging is achieved when there is nothing left to take away; it is achieved when the essence of your company is clearly communicated.
Most messages are like a Rube Goldberg Machines. Complicated with lots of commas and “ands,” executives throw everything advantage they could possibly add into the mix. The hope is that if they say enough things, eventually something will spark interest.
The reality is quite the opposite. The end result is confusion in the market and in your company. My advice is to take away, take away, take away – until there is nothing left but the core of what your do; or more importantly why you do it.
In yesterday’s post I shared a critical designation, and strategic sales decision, that must be made early in the sales process. Are you making a “status quo” sale, or a “change” sale. Now I’d like to share part 2 – the implication of each sale and how to tell the difference.
In many ways, a status quo sale is easier than a change sale. But, as with anything, “ease” has its trade-offs. Status quo sales are far more susceptible to competition, commoditization, and price/margin pressure. It’s very hard to stand out when making a status quo sale, so the sales/marketing focus is much more tactical, with the tactics shifting frequently.
Change sales are harder to make, if for no other reason than change is involved. The upside is that they can have greater impact to the buying organization. Selling organizations that master change sales are able to avoid commoditization by bypassing the competitive environment and becoming a true resource to their prospects/customers – as I’ve written before – they’ve made The Shift from selling to stuff to selling results.
The danger here is that sellers frequently attempt to make change sales to people in the buying organization who worry about the present or past. This is just as damaging as when companies try to sell total value propositions to fundamental value buyers.
In a typical business organization 80-90% of the people are responsible for the present or past. If they’re who you are counting on to drive the sale, then you need to be making a status quo sale.
Only 10 – 20% of people in a company are responsible for managing and allocating resources to address what could be happening. They should be the focus of your sales efforts if you are making a strategic, change sale.
Be careful, while title is an indicator of one’s time frame it is often misleading. So, how can you tell if you’re talking to a future-oriented person or not? Two cues:
- Listen to them. If they spend most of their time talking about what could be, they’re future oriented. If they spend time talking about what is or was, they’re status quo.
- Look at their resource allocation authority. Do they allocate resources to deal with future possibilities or present-day realities?
Going forward spend a little extra time to make sure you are aligning your selling proposition to your buyer’s time frame.
In 2004, I wrote about the need to align your sales proposition with the value definition of your buyer. Over the last seven years, I’ve become increasingly aware of another critical misalignment that occurs in sales efforts every day – timeframes.
Far, far too often, sellers are bringing superior value propositions and promises of better futures to people who do not worry about the future. There are two types of people who work within companies:
- Those who worry about the future.
- Those who worry about the present (and past).
As a seller, you must make a critical decision early in the sales cycle (and in many cases even before the sales cycle begins): Are you making a “status quo” sale, or are you making a “change” sale?
A status quo sale requires very little change in behavior or approach on the part of the buyer. While there are too many possibilities to describe all status quo sales, you are promising an improvement in an area of work where your customer/prospect is already paying for something – be it a key process, a resource or even people. When your new customer makes a status quo purchase from you, they do the same basic things they did with their previous “solution.” The status quo sale is aimed at addressing the issues/problems/worries in the “now.”
A change sale requires the prospect/customer to change their approach is some way to be able to fully take advantage of (and therefore, fully value and pay for) the value proposition. A change sale can address key process or resources, just as a status quo sale can, but the issues/problems/worries it addresses occur in the future.
Tomorrow, I will share the implications of a status quo vs. change sale and how to tell what type of buyer you are dealing with.
At one of my speeches recently, I was talking with an attendee on the difficulty he was having getting prospects to respond.
As he shared his experiences with me, I came to understand that:
- He did something really different,
- The results his clients received were nothing short of amazing, and
- His message was so complicated that the more he talked about it, the more I got confused.
I spent some time with him in an attempt to simplify his message so that people who hadn’t worked with him could understand why they would want to talk with him. While he listened intensely, I could see him struggled with making his message simple. “It’s more complicated than that,” he would tell me; or, “And we do much more than that.”
What I wanted him to understand was that it’s his job, and the job of his selling organization, to make his message easily understandable.
“Make it consumable – make it like junk food,” I said.
Marketers have understood for years that positioning yourself as the proverbial “spinach – it’s good for you” is not an effective strategy. Why do more people eat Oreo cookies than spinach? Because Oreos taste better and are more easily consumed.
The same is true when it comes to messaging. People are too busy and too crazed. They don’t have time to think, so stop making them do it. Do the thinking for them – make it easy – you’ll see your sales soar.
Let me be clear:
If you’ve got a viable business you’ve got competition.
I often hear executives claim that they don’t have any competition. I even catch myself saying it about Imagine, sometimes. The reality is, no matter how “unique” your products/services are, your customers and prospects still have alternatives. You may (and I emphasize “may”) not have any direct competition, but you certainly have:
- indirect competitors, and
- the toughest competitor of all, the status quo.
People don’t buy products and services so much as they “hire” a product or service to do “a job.” This means that if some doesn’t have a problem (a job to be done) there is no opportunity for [a sale]. The only offerings that can have no competition are the ones that do a job that nobody wants. To be accepted in the market, you must be able to define the job that you are asking people to hire your product/service to do.
This is an important distinction, because a critical strategic decision for any business is how you define your competition. The brain of your customers/prospects requires contrast to understand and act. Your definition of competition is what makes it possible to radically differentiate your company (think about it – how can you contrast with nothing?).
When I started Imagine, I thought I had an approach that was so unique that no one did what we do. So when asked who my competitors are, I brazenly responded: “We don’t really have competition. No one does what we do.” That, of course, got me nowhere. I was so focused on getting people to understand what we weren’t (we weren’t Sandler, we weren’t Miller Hieman, no we weren’t a marketing agency, and so on) that no one could understand what we were.
I realized that I needed to define my competition. The easiest way to do that was do compare us to “sales trainers.” But, I knew that sales training was a highly commoditized, highly competitive market and that it would be virtually impossible to stand out or to earn the fees we needed to deliver the results we promise.
Stuck (because I could define what we weren’t, but not what we were) I asked myself, what is the job that someone is hiring us for?
My first thought was that people were hiring us to do sales training. But I knew that didn’t do us justice. So I pondered it more and I realized that no one wants sales training – what they want is more sales. More, profitable sales and faster sales. That was our job – to enable companies to get more sales, faster sales and more profit per sale.
Now defining my competition was easy – we compete (and cooperate) with virtually any product or service designed to help companies with their go-to-market strategy. This completely changed the focus of my company, enabled us to attract some great clients that would never of hired us to merely do sales training, and it gave us a track for successful innovation. Today, we continue to pursue that journey.
Now it’s your turn. What “job” do people hire your products/services to do? What else is competing for that job?
Let’s be honest. While you may provide your customers with the “best” option, the reality is that they have more than enough adequate options. I put best in quotes, because today being the “best” in not enough to win.
Think about this:
- I think Diet Coke is the best soda, but I’m okay with Diet Pepsi.
- UPS is my choice for overnight delivery, but I’m okay with Fedex.
- Starbucks is my favorite coffee, but Myorga Coffee is just fine with me.
If your product or service is merely the best among adequate choices, your market position is precarious. You’ll have to work harder and harder, for less and less – just like everybody else.
By the way, differentiation is no longer enough – to succeed in the future you must radically differentiate yourself. You must become a market of one. For example, we’re working with a company that provides strategic planning for a tightly defined vertical market. When we started working with them, their objective was to communicate how their strategic planning process is the best. Our advice was that if we focus the conversation on strategic planning, we lose. As long as their prospects can compare them to other strategic planners, there was no way to differentiate adequacy.
What we had to do was identify where and how we could become indispensable. We had to identify the problems that weren’t being solved by traditional strategic planning, and focus the message, the approach, and the process to solving those problems. This required us to more tightly define their market, to probe deeply into the results their clients desired, and to develop the tools to have the “what’s it worth conversation.”
The same is true for you. Stop asking yourself, “What can we do to be the best?” Instead, focus – maniacally – on where and how you can be indispensable.
I had a very interesting conversation with a CEO attendee at one of my speeches. He’s built an impressive organization and he was sharing his management philosophy.
Basically, he believes that his most important job is to hire great people, which he defines as people clearly capable of doing the job assigned to them. His second most important job is to clearly lay out the results he expects. His third (and probably toughest) is to get out of the way and let his people go to work.
I realize that there is nothing earth shattering in this philosophy. What struck me is how matter of fact he was in discussing it, and the track record he had implementing it.
I often talk about how effective communication is not communicating so you can be understood, it’s communicating so you can’t be misunderstood. In my conversation with this CEO, I realized just how important this type of communication is, in a world that moves and changes so fast.
I’ve done a great job of assembling a unique group of people and talent at Imagine. My job now is to raise the bar on my communication so that I can get out of their way.
What do you have to do to drive better performance from your people?
Last night, I spoke to the Baltimore chapter of The American Marketing Association. The topic was blogging and its place for businesses. One of the attendees came up to me after the presentation and said what I’ve heard many, many times – “Everything you said was great and I agree with it all (okay, I don’t hear that all the time), but we just don’t have the time to do it.”
Side note: For purposes of this conversation, I will use “blog” and “content” interchangeably. I think a blog is a great way to distribute content and support engagement, but whether you or your company “blog” is less important than do you create meaningful, valuable content for your market on a regular basis.
For those that say you don’t have time, I share three simple responses and a bonus thought.
1. Today there are only two types of companies – which are you?
2. There’s a HUGE conversation taking place…
… are you participating in it?
3. Here’s the difference blogging and content marketing has made for Imagine, you tell me – is it worth it?
If after all this you still can’t bring yourself to make the investment (of time and energy to do it yourself or money to have others do it), then on behalf of all those who are blogging, we say thank you. The more people who don’t take it seriously, the greater our advantage is.
What do you think?
Once a year, people sit down to watch television and they’re (almost) as interested in the ads as the show. That time, of course, is the Super Bowl. As I watched the game and rooted for the Saints, I was struck by three things.
- First, I was struck by how virtually everyone who wasn’t a Colts fan was rooting for the Saints. Yesterday, they truly were America’s team.
- Second, I was struck by just how boring and useless the ads were – again.
- Third, it hit me just how much these two things have in common.
Why did so many root for the Saints? They have a compelling story. From the recovery of New Orleans, to the comeback of Drew Brees, to the characters on the team. The Saints, simply put, were are a great story.
The ads – not so much.
It’s unfortunate, because it hasn’t always been this way. Three years ago, I asked if your company would make a good TV show. Last year, I wrote about the importance of a powerful back story. There was a time that commercials did an excellent job of this. In 30 seconds, a great commercial told a compelling story that enticed and engaged its audience. Today, it seems as though commercials are trying to catch lightening in a bottle in the form of a catchphrase, rather than engaging the audience with a story.
To see the difference in commercials compare one of yesterday’s most popular commercials with a famous commercial from the 1980s.
Notice that while the commercial is funny, it doesn’t really tell a story. As a result, people may remember the punch line (Don’t touch my mama or my Doritos), but it’s highly unlikely they’ll remember the product (even though the product is part of the punch line).
Now look at this famous Federal Express commercial:
The Doritos ad has far greater production value, and I think we’d all agree that the Federal Express commercial is far more memorable – and impactful. Why? Because it tells a powerful story.
If you want people to notice you, stop focusing on features and start telling stories. What do you think? What’s your story?
Anyone who has worked with me knows that I’m a maniac for messaging. In today’s world, where good is now nowhere near good enough, a solid message is no longer a valuable bonus – it’s an absolute must have to compete. The foundation of a great message is a well articulated value proposition. The challenge here is that creating a value proposition that resonates is extremely hard (it’s one of the reasons that The INTELLIGENT GROWTH Blueprint process is so valuable).
And, even after you’ve created a powerful message you have to translate that through the words and deeds of your salespeople. It’s no wonder businesses overlook these steps – wouldn’t just be easier to get in the market and sell? If you realize this challenge, I’ve got good news for you.
My friend, consultant, advisor, and author, Kevin Daum, is coming out with a new book Roar! Get Heard in the Sales and Marketing Jungle that will lead you and your salespeople to do this successfully. I’ll provide a full review when we get closer to the release date (and I’m working with Kevin to have him write a guest post or sit down for an interview). Kevin’s a great guy to learn from (I learn from him every time we talk). Kevin gets it – he understands strategy, messaging and the sales process. Most importantly, Kevin understands that theory is nice, but it’s profitable revenue that matters.
Kevin is offering a free preview of his book (and he’s giving away his formula for creating a powerful value proposition – and please know this is must-read stuff). I realize that this sounds like hyperbole, but you’ll note I rarely say something is must-read, Kevin’s take on creating value proposition is. After reading this portion of the book, we refined our process as a result. Kevin’s given me permission to share the preview here, so take advantage and download a copy.
I came across an interesting question (I can’t remember the source). The topic was listening and the question was after talking with someone “did I really listen? Did I understand what they really wanted me to do – and what they wanted me not to do?”
It was the last part that I found most interesting. In the super busy time we are all in, we have a tendency to listen for what others want us to do, but rarely do we think about what they don’t want us to do. As an executive myself, and an advisor to many other executives, I often experience the exasperation of ineffective communication. I find myself thinking – and saying – “Why did they do that?” I realize the intent is almost always in alignment with my desire, but the action often isn’t.
A long time ago I learned that a “stop doing list” was far more powerful than the traditional to-do list. I shouldn’t be surprised to uncover that this theme also applies to communication. I think that if we all spent more time understanding what isn’t expected, and communicating it when we establish expectations, we’d all be more effective.
What do you think?
At this time of year, while we are all in the midst of the season’s greetings ritual, it is worth stopping for a moment to remind everyone that empty ritual is meaningless. The last thing I want to be perceived as is “Grinch-like,” but I can’t help but notice all of the inane, silly, and meaningless cards and holiday emails I’m getting.
It reminds me of a lesson my mom taught me. As I child, I was known to be slightly impulsive. My “act first, think second” habit caused more than a few things to break. I learned (quickly) that if I apologized quickly the punishment would be far less than it would have been otherwise. I became really good at saying “I’m sorry.” Eventually my mom taught me that merely saying I’m sorry didn’t mean anything if I didn’t act sorry. At that point, saying I’m sorry no longer had a positive effect. I learned that empty words were worthless.
Today I got the following email message:
What’s wrong with this you ask? I’ve never done anything with them, I don’t think about them, and I have no loyalty to them. All this message did was highlight how little they actually care about their customers.
Now, if this were happening just during holiday season, I wouldn’t comment on it. However, these empty acts happen all the time, and in today’s attention-deficit world, businesses can’t afford empty communication.
- They happen when you send out a newsletter that your readers don’t find relevant.
- They happen when your salespeople call on your customers and your customer gets no value from the call.
- They happen when emails go out with all data and no context.
Buyers are constantly making decisions about how relevant you are. Your challenge is that 99% of that decision is made subconsciously. As people have less time and less capacity to deal with information, your #1 communication job is to ensure that you make the cut. Resolve to make every communication meaningful, relevant, and valuable.
In the height of NBC’s success in the 1980s, their Thursday night lineup was commonly referred to as “Must See TV.” While it kept that refrain for most of the 1990s, it slowly and surely lost its relevance, and now NBC is a virtual joke.
This morning, I was reading a review of one of my favorite television shows and the reviewer talked of how the show has been exaggerating too much, for too long; and if it wanted to keep its mantelpiece as one of the best shows on television, it needed to get back its focus. My first thought was that while the show had been slightly over the top recently, I watched the show more for entertainment than for “critical acclaim.” I felt that the critic was being, well, a critic. Finding fault simply to justify his column.
As I ruminated on the review, I realized that the reviewer was correct. I realized that while I hadn’t yet tired of the show, if it didn’t get it’s focus back, the show would lose it’s indispensability, then it would lose its relevance, and soon after that I would no longer notice it.
I couldn’t help but make the connection to business growth. So often, in the name of “opportunism,” businesses stop playing to their inherent strengths. In the pursuit for volume, businesses stop focusing on those to whom they are indispensable. No one notices it at first, and, as a matter of fact, the short-term decision is rewarded with increased sales and sometimes even margins. Forecasts are reviewed and increased; and managers sit back, take their bonuses and contemplate just how genius they are.
But soon, almost without notice, the business loses a little relevance. A key customer re-bids a project. Another client cuts back and decides to stop an initiative. All, easily explained by management as “things beyond our control.” Then, it becomes more and more noticeable. Margins begin to erode, win rates decline, and costs grow. It’s what happened to Starbucks, NBC, and it happens to every business that loses its “plot” – that special reason that a group of people decide to make you a part of their life. Businesses that grow continually find ways to reinforce their plot. They get stronger and they become more indispensable to their fans. It’s often said that the cost of keeping a customer is a lot less than the costs of gaining a new one, or losing an old one. Great businesses – “Must See Businesses” – live that ideal everyday. Great businesses, like great shows, stories and television networks, stay true to their plot.
What’s your plot, and how are you sticking to it?