Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Simple Guide to Making Connections at Conventions

Conventions are an excellent marketing and networking tool for many small to medium-sized businesses. When managed properly, conventions provide a great opportunity to attract customers, learn more about potential partners or vendors, and build a database of potential leads for the future. The largest conventions may put thousands of prospects within arms' reach of you, while smaller events offer the opportunity to mix and mingle with peers on a more intimate level.

If you're considering attending a convention, you need to start planning today. Learn how to choose the right event, what you need to keep in mind when networking, the importance of your booth, and what you should aim to offer those who stop by. Once you have these details under control, you'll be ready to make a lasting impression at your big event!

The Big Decision

There are a huge number of conventions and conferences each year -- most likely, more than one applicable to your industry or line of business. Choosing the right convention to attend is a big decision. Spend some time looking over the available information. How many other businesses similar to your own do you think will be attending?

In some cases, you may do better attending a smaller convention or one that doesn't specifically target those in your industry. You want a convention that will give you the chance to network with those who may utilize your product or service, as well as those who offer products you can use. However, if you can get your foot in the door of a convention where you won't have many direct competitors, you may be able to obtain leads that are more valuable.

Networking

While at the convention, put less emphasis on making sales and closing deals and more on making connections, building leads, and networking. Decide ahead of time which events you will attend and which you'll forego in order to operate your booth in person. If there are any social events, use them to reach out and speak to those you consider potential partners for the future.

Booth Matters

Your booth in the dealer or vendor area is an important marketing tool. Clearly, you want to keep it neat, orderly, and attractive to those who pass by. Additionally, you may want to offer something unique or special to encourage people to make the effort to come see you. Outside of attracting potential visitors, you want to make the booth experience "work." Make sure you're staffed with knowledgeable personnel and that you have samples, demonstrations, and (possibly) videos available, so you can showcase the key benefits your products and services provide.

The Takeaway

Whether you network with a potential client at a social event or an interested party stops by your booth, you want to provide a way for people to get in touch with you after the event. Start by making sure your business card stands out from the dozens of other cards attendees will pick up at the show. Have some brochures or handouts available, too. These will allow you to share more detailed information.

Collect key contact information from booth visitors, too, including email addresses, phone numbers, and social media profiles. Then, when the event is over, immediately make contact yourself. The goal is to build relationships that will be mutually beneficial now and in the future.

As you can see, there's more to think about when attending a convention as a professional than just putting on your name badge and showing up. Spend time planning for the big day (or weekend), and maximize the return on your investment of time and effort.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Advice From Mr. Feeny: How The Boy Meets World Mentor Can Help Transform Your Business

One of most beloved sitcoms of the 1990s, Boy Meets World was a coming-of-age show about suburban kids, Cory; his best friend, Shawn; his girlfriend and future wife, Topanga; and his brother, Eric. Throughout the show, the characters faced difficulties, important life decisions, and sometimes struggled to make sense of the world around them.

Like all teenagers and young adults, they looked for people they could confide in, who would help them make the right decision and correct their path when they didn't make the best choices. The characters found this in Mr. Feeny, a school teacher who also happened to be Cory's neighbor. In becoming their mentor, Mr. Feeny also had a profound effect on many people who tuned into the show each week.

Although most of the people who once spent their evenings engrossed in episodes and reruns of Boy Meets World are now seasoned adults, experienced in the business world, the life lessons Mr. Feeny taught an entire generation are far from forgotten. Here are just a few quotes from the popular teacher that sum up his wisdom.

Life and Business Lessons from Mr. Feeny

"Sometimes a sure thing is not the best thing."

In business, it can be very tempting to take the easy road: to keep running the exact same marketing campaigns and contacting the same people, knowing you'll get at least a certain amount of response. This is taking the easy way out. To be successful, however, you must be willing to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Keep what works, but expand and be willing to venture off the beaten path and find new ways to grow.

"You don't have to be blood to be family."

Being successful in business and in life is all about building relationships. Relationships should be built on mutual trust and knowing that a friend will always be there for you, just as you will be there for them. Maintaining close bonds with people encourages us to grow as individuals and can help us succeed in the business world. No one can succeed entirely on their own. Instead, they must work to nurture relationships and develop connections with others within their industry.

"Believe in yourselves. Dream. Try. Do good."

This quote aptly sums up what is required of entrepreneurs and business leaders alike. No company is going to be successful if the leaders don't believe in what the the group is capable of accomplishing. They must all be able to envision a successful future and be willing to take the steps to make that dream a reality.

Business leaders need to continually try new things and not be afraid to dive back in if an initial plan is not successful. At the same time, no matter how successful a company may be, they cannot forget to think about others. This means operating with a general compassion for their community and those around them. This may take more energy than just running a yearly canned food drive, but will go much further in creating a pleasant place to work and fostering a healthy, positive spirit. This spirit can take the business far.

A mentor for all people, old and young, Mr. Feeny lives on in the memories of countless fans of Boy Meets World. While the lessons he gave may have been oriented toward leading children and adolescents into adulthood, they're just as valuable for professionals working to succeed in the business world. It would do us all some good to remember the life advice of Mr. Feeny.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Using Innovation Hand in Hand With Consistency

Innovation is important for any successful marketing campaign. No company will remain on top if it continues to use outdated marketing techniques. Of course, that doesn't mean you should always look for the latest and greatest techniques. There are as many marketing schools of thought as there are marketing professionals. The key to successfully updating and innovating a marketing strategy is to find the balance between consistency and a willingness to try something new.

Identifying what's already working

To know when it's appropriate to change strategies and find ways to innovate, you must first evaluate how your original strategies are working. There are a variety of techniques you can use to judge the success of your marketing campaigns, including:

Share of voice
This is a great way to see how much 'buzz' a marketing campaign is generating. Share of voice essentially monitors how much the consumer base is discussing your company compared to the amount of time they spend speaking about your competitors. This information can help you determine how prevalent your brand is online, how familiar your name is to potential customers, and even how positively or negatively people think of your brand online. Free tools like Social Mention and Google Alerts are a great place to start.

Website traffic
Gauge how frequently people visit your company website now compared to how many page views you received before the campaign began.

Spikes in business
After implementing certain marketing techniques, such as a direct mail marketing campaign, watch for spikes in business compared to previous months.

Once you've determined the success of your marketing campaigns, you'll have a more accurate picture of what styles work best for you and your customers.

The value of remaining consistent

Continually changing your marketing strategies is rarely an effective approach. Marketing is all about getting your brand name in front of customers and convincing them that you're the company to turn to when they need the products or services you sell. Marketing campaigns that continually change are going to struggle with the basic goal of getting customers to recognize your brand. If your message and means of communication are constantly changing, potential customers will have a harder time trying to absorb what you're saying. If you try to use every marketing strategy, nothing will stick, and you'll end up spinning your wheels.

Successfully walking the line between consistency and innovation

When you're looking to successfully blend consistency and innovation, you must determine what works for you and branch out slowly from there. Isolate which techniques are working best. Is it Facebook? Is it direct mail marketing? Whatever the answer, that should be the basis for your marketing campaign.

Now, focus on learning how to take those specific strategies to the next level. Look for ways to shrink the sales cycle, so potential buyers are converted into paying customers more quickly and more efficiently. Investigate ways you can help that portion of your campaign reach more people. If direct mail has been a huge success, try to pinpoint what it is about the demographic you've chosen that has made the campaign so great, and then find more people who fit that demographic. If Facebook has brought in many new leads, determine what types of content are attracting the most attention, and work on developing similar lines. Make it easier for customers on social media to enter the sales funnel and improve ROI.

Innovation should never be done blindly. It should be done with specific goals in mind and to help improve existing successful practices. That doesn't mean you should resist trying something new, just that it should be done in a controlled manner and should not replace what has already been working. Innovation must work hand in hand with consistency if you hope to achieve the highest level of success.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Benefits of Bringing in the Experts

As business owners, we count on experts to save us time and money. On any given day, we might consult a financial advisor to help us with a major purchase or investment strategy. Or we might hire a sales trainer to oversee the development of our sales team or the implementation of a new sales strategy. Or perhaps we might engage a management consultant to look for ways to run our companies more effectively.

Whatever the need, it seems, an expert is there, ready to help.

One area where expert advice can be especially helpful is your company's marketing. Consulting an expert early in the planning process can not only save you time but also help you hone your campaign so it reaches just the right audience with a message they're ready to hear.

Unfortunately, trends in advertising and marketing can change at the drop of a hat. To make matters worse, what works well for one company or industry might not be right for another. Working with an expert who studies trends, yet also knows how to use more traditional means effectively, will help you decide which trends are worth your time and which to avoid. Their guidance can save you the time and effort involved in chasing bad opportunities.

So where can you find experts to help you grow your business? Start with your key suppliers. After all, helping you become successful is in their best interest, too. The stronger your company gets, the more opportunity your suppliers will have for future revenue growth. So tap their expertise whenever you can.

But how do you know who to turn to and who to avoid? First and foremost, look for experts who understand your goals and business requirements. Stick with those whose advice you trust based on previous experience. And make sure the expert is someone you feel comfortable working with on the project.

When you augment your own staff with a group of trusted experts from other fields, you strengthen your business in the most cost-efficient way. You get expert advice without adding to your payroll or ongoing business expenses. And that's a win for everyone.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Keeping Leads Alive and Healthy

No business can thrive without leads to drive sales. While finding quality leads is challenging enough, maintaining and converting those leads can be even more difficult. As you think about your sales strategy for the new year, consider these ideas for keeping prospective buyers interested and active.

Take Your Time
Nobody wants to feel as though they're being overtly sold a particular product or pressured into making a buying decision that might not be right for them. Yet many sales reps are very quick to launch right into a sales pitch or offer quick-fix solutions without fully understanding a prospect's needs. This approach tends to turn off a lot of prospects and quickly kill leads.

Instead of launching right into your sales speech, start the conversation without broaching the subject of sales at all. For example, if the lead came from a list of customers who are using an outdated software system, begin by asking how the current system is working for them. Some companies may not even realize that they should consider updating. Approaching the subject from this perspective can seem less pushy and help the prospective customer feel more comfortable talking with you. From there, you can gradually ease into a more sales-oriented conversation.

Build Rapport
Get to know your prospect and their particular needs before discussing budgets and product specifications. Then tailor your approach accordingly. Establish rapport and let your customer see that you have a genuine interest in solving their problem, not just making a sale. Even if you don't make an immediate sale, your prospect will leave the meeting with a more positive impression of your company and will be more likely to turn to you when they're ready to make a purchase in the future.

Follow Up
Don't make your first meeting with a prospect your last contact with that person. Follow up to remind them what you talked about and to keep your name top of mind. A poll conducted by B2B Marketing Magazine found that 69 percent of buyers preferred to have companies follow up with them through e-mail. Telephone follow-up finished a distant second, at 17 percent. SCi Sales Group found that 52 percent of buyers expected a call back from companies within one day, and another 36 percent said they expected to hear back from a company within five days. Failure to meet buyers' expectations on these issues can result in a variety of missed opportunities.

Resurrecting Dead Leads
Sometimes, despite the best of intentions, leads die. Some, however, can still be resurrected. Successfully generating sales from a dead lead requires tact and the right tools.

Once a lead has gone cold, it can be difficult to determine if the prospect still has a need for your product. Your first step should be to determine this potential. Remember again that prospects don't appreciate pushy sales tactics. Instead, try sending a brief, one or two line email to determine if they're still interested in your product. If the response is positive, follow up right away with a phone call, asking for a time to sit down and meet. In your meeting, steer the conversation toward the prospect's needs and solving their problems, rather than focusing on your product or pushing for a sale.

Keeping leads alive and healthy is an important part of doing business. In the rush to get as many leads as possible, it's easy to let some leads die. These leads, however, can be a major source of revenue for your company. Learning how to keep leads alive or save those that have gone cold is an important skill... and one that can improve your company's bottom line.

Planning an Integrated Marketing Campaign for the New Year

We're all connected to the businesses around us in a variety of ways: social media posts, direct mail flyers, advertisements in favorite magazines, commercials on television, and even ads pasted on the sides of buses. Many businesses, wanting to reach as wide an audience as possible, will advertise using a variety of channels. An integrated marketing campaign involves creating a clear, uniform message that will resonate across all of those channels, increasing name-recognition and driving sales. If that sounds like something your company is looking to do, here are some ways to start developing a plan.

Refining the brand message

Integrated marketing campaigns focus around building brand recognition. Take, for example, Apple. When someone views the Apple logo, they don't mistake it for an actual drawing of the fruit. They see the company associated with it and the crisp and clean nature of the technology it creates. The same goes for the Nike swoosh and the slogan "Just Do It." The logo actually inspires people to go out for a run. These brands have been immensely successful in determining their company message and sending it out uniformly across all channels.

It can seem overwhelming for a small business to compete with that level of success, but the key is to start simple. Determine what centralized message customers should draw from a commercial or ad. Summarize the top selling qualities of the business in just a few words.

Taking the message to the street

Remember that no one company can be everything to everyone. Instead, identify a central message and develop a targeted campaign that can be used across different advertising platforms. If a potential customer hears about your company on Facebook, they should come away with the same impression as someone who first heard your name on the radio. This will help them make the connection between the advertisements. Then, when they see a second ad on a bus while driving to work, they'll think, "Oh yeah, I've heard of those guys!" If the different ads had completely different messages, the odds of that prospect making the connection would be much smaller. For smaller and newer companies, this can be deadly.

Bring everything back

As you develop your message and the ads you want to use, remember to bring everything back to your website. For most companies, their website is a central point for attracting and engaging customers. This means that all advertising should work at steering people toward that site. Your website should provide contact information, more information about your products and services, and additional incentives to get prospects to buy from you.

Customers like things easy, though. Make sure your online ads provide a clear link that's easy, appealing, and straightforward. If customers have to look for it, chances are they won't. This part can be a bit more challenging with paper advertising, since few people are going to remember a long web address. To help these customers, consider adding a QR code or a simplified URL. Also try to keep the website address as catchy and easy to remember as possible.

Creating an integrated marketing campaign can be a fantastic business move. In the modern world, there are countless platforms for advertising and communicating with potential clients. A well-orchestrated campaign will not only reach a large audience, but it will also help increase brand recognition and drive people back to your website. The new year offers a perfect opportunity to get started with a bang by putting these marketing strategies to work for you.