The art of targeting: Sometimes your best prospect isn’t precisely who you thought

Over the past couple of years, I’ve written a lot about sales and marketing strategies. But what’s often overlooked when developing and planning a marketing program is the importance of defining your best targets. As a matter of fact, statistics show that people spend 75% of their marketing efforts targeting the wrong people. So let’s review some tips that can help you connect with your most viable candidates.

When working with clients, our first step is a thorough demographic review of the past year’s top ten accounts in order to determine their profiling characteristics. We focus on customer commonalities and trends, such as number of employees, geographic location, and annual sales revenue. We even go so far as to look at the age of the contact who’s making the buying decisions. And, we look at their job title (e.g., CEO, president, sales manager, marketing manager, etc.)

Why are job titles important? Besides describing a specific function, an organization’s job titles may also reveal what might be lacking within that particular company. So at times the obvious commonalities are really opportunities to proceed in a new direction.

Take, for instance, a recent experience we had with one of our accounts. They’re a large freight forwarder, and we were developing a plan to recruit new business because sales had been flat for a period of time. So, it was our task to identify potential new prospects and then develop a sales and marketing plan specifically designed for this new business initiative.

Our work involved doing some preliminary target research in order to purchase a mailing and e-mail list of viable prospects. In doing so, we often try to match job titles to the titles of current clients. With an eye on the profiling characteristics we had already uncovered, we then contacted some possible companies who might be in need of our client’s services. But, we were not getting much of a response.

So we re-evaluated our targeting strategy, and here’s what we uncovered: Nine of our top ten accounts had “shipping manager“ titles or functions. And even though current accounts spoke very highly of my client’s services, they also said that their pricing wasn’t particularly competitive (i.e., it was medium to high compared to other freight forwarders). And it made sense that attempts to reach an identical target might uncover similar pricing objections.

After putting “two and two” together, we reasoned that my client’s perfect prospect might now in fact be a company which shipped a good amount of freight—but did not have a shipping manager on staff. And, since they lacked this function in-house, that target might very well need someone who provided an extra level of service. And, thus, they might not be opposed to paying a rate that was not the cheapest available. Put simply, they would better appreciate the added value my client brought to their organization.

It goes without saying that an integral key in finding the right target is to match the type of products and service you provide with the type of prospect that seeks your style of product and service for their business. But what needs to be re-stated is that since market conditions are constantly in flux, the target’s demographic may very well change over time.

Naturally, once you’ve identified the most promising prospects, your marketing and promotional messages must then be targeted as well, honing in on the “hot buttons” that match the target’s particular needs and challenges. Here’s where a review of their psychographics can be helpful as well, so that ad copy can speak more directly to that prospect’s behaviors, attitudes and needs.

So when pinpointing your perfect customer, first do a preliminary review of the type of person and influencer who deals with your company and how your company delivers its product and service to them. Then narrow that group down to five to ten of your most loyal customers. Their loyalty probably extends beyond the fact that they may like you personally. They’ve remained loyal because your company provides a unique selling advantage in terms of the way you conduct your business. Then consider there may be now be opportunities to market these unique advantages to a new level of influencer. It’s why so much of targeting is more art than science.

So review. Analyze. And assess.  Then target smartly.

That’s Q from the street.

Anthony Quaranta is the president of The Q Group, Hauppauge, N.Y.

 

Keep swinging the bat: Lessons learned by salespeople from “the one that got away”

As professional salespeople, we’ve all had our ups and downs. We know that sales is a numbers game—reaching out to lots of prospects to identify a chosen (hopefully, qualified) few. But a dedication to achieving our goals, and, of course, persistency, eventually leads to success. Yet there’s always a lot to learn when we don’t win. And it’s why we should always dissect the one that got away. Here’s how:

  1. Reflect on your performance. Sometimes you’re so close to the forest, you can’t see the trees. So start with the basics. Step away from the day-to-day. Find a place you can sit and relax for a couple of hours and think about what happened. No cell phones please.

First and foremost, don’t blame the prospect. It’s the easy way out, and you could get into a bad habit of doing it every time you don’t close a sale.

Instead, evaluate your process and consider where you might have been ineffective. Did you listen enough? Did you truly hear what the client wanted? And, did you give the client the opportunity to express their specific desires and concerns—and then provide a solution that filled that need?

If you can still give yourself high marks, ask yourself if you know precisely why the client chose not to go with you. Unfortunately, few clients will share their true reasons with you. So consider what parts of your presentation and strategies the client did agree with or was inspired by, and make some assumptions about what wasn’t as well received.

  1. Evaluate your current client base. Take the time to review your top clients. What do they have in common—and what is it that makes them an absolute fit for your service? Maybe it’s your industry expertise and experience, and your track record in helping clients meet their goals. Perhaps you’re a good fit because your client doesn’t already employ a full-time staffer that does your job. Or maybe there’s a mutual likability factor that can withstand the pressures of a working relationship. Whatever the reasons, most often you’ll find that there’s a commonality that connects the clients you have.
  2. If you were speaking to the wrong person, pinpoint why. All too often, we’re pitching the wrong people. And I don’t just mean the wrong decision maker. We may even been talking to the wrong company. So take a careful look at the client you probably never should have spoken with. Because even if your presentation went perfect, the problem was your prospect didn’t bite. And you may have invested a lot of time speaking to someone who was never going to say “yes.” Maybe they didn’t have the budget—or they weren’t in charge of it. Or they were in their busy season and couldn’t make a decision. Or your services don’t solve their challenges. Bottom line? The next time you plan to pitch to a new client, ask yourself “does this client have potential?” Better still, when you’re prospecting, make sure you’re prospecting to the right person.
  3. Re-visit. Sometimes the truth is nothing went wrong and the one that got away was really worth it. As to this, don’t give up. I always keep a list of the clients I didn’t get—that I should have. Some of the most successful salespeople have revisited accounts that they didn’t get many years later and picked up the account. Maybe it was timing, maybe it was a new decision-maker, maybe they finally have a budget. Or maybe the pain of switching to a new vendor was too much back then. Whatever the reason, make sure you keep a list of the clients you wished you got—and be sure to re-visit them. Believe it or not, in today’s digital age, a handwritten note from time to time makes a memorable impression.

Vince Lombardi remarked, “If you can’t accept losing, you can’t win.” Good salespeople never like to lose, but accept it as part of the job. And they use what they’ve learned to get even better on the next call. That’s because success is not just about not striking out; oftentimes it’s making sure you get another chance at bat. So keep on swinging.

That’s Q from the street.

Anthony Quaranta is the president of The Q Group, Hauppauge, N.Y.

Is “cheap” costly? Quantifying value-added benefits often alters the equation

When pitching products or services, we’re typically tasked with defining our Unique Selling Proposition (USP).  But when selling high-ticket items, what’s just as critical—and perhaps more compelling—is to not only describe, but also actually quantify, value-added benefits. And it’s absolutely essential that you promote these values on the front end of the sales process.

Why? Because even though a competitor’s widget may cost hundreds, even thousands, of dollars less, it more often than not lacks profit-prone benefits when compared with your more expensive widget. So, from the get-go, seize the opportunity to exceed your customer’s expectations by properly exploiting value-added advantages.

In doing so, I take a “nuts and bolts” approach. With pad and pen, I ask my prospect to define his or her most critical criteria when purchasing the product or service. (Knowing that this person is a purchasing influencer is essential; if they’re having trouble discussing their requirements, you’re not engaging the right person.) Throughout, my goal is to have the prospect articulate—or at least agree with—the value-added benefits that exist in the widget I’m selling. But my overriding intent is also to enlist their collaboration, their buy-in to this exercise, particularly its outcome.

Naturally, everyone wants his or her purchase to perform “as advertised.” But there’s always additional, underlying benefits to consider, including:

  • Higher productivity. Perhaps your more expensive machine has a higher output because it works at half the speed. The payoff? Twice the productivity.
  • Lower operating costs. Maybe that machine’s user-friendliness translates into manpower savings, i.e., it needs one operator as opposed to two. Cha-ching.
  • Better residual value. It’s also about the long term. Think about a BMW versus a Honda. When it’s time for resale, how much more will one brand be worth?
  • Service and support. Never position services late in the sales process because it simply diminishes their value. A value-added service could be as modest as a  24/7 “customer-only” parts portal. It clearly offers convenience, which saves time—and that delivers a monetary benefit to the customer.

Once we’ve collectively compiled our list, put a value on each benefit between one to ten, with ten being an absolutely essential need. If your prospect is having trouble doing so, perhaps share the opinion of another client. It’s also important to keep in mind that when quantifying benefits, you need to use sound logic in order to develop credible, real-world assumptions. Fine-tuning can be difficult, because in most cases you’re predicting the unknown future. So don’t get too bogged down in the numbers, just in their rationale.

We then compare each product’s features and offerings—mine versus the competition—to determine which scores the highest, all based on the prospect’s specifically defined needs. Hopefully, you’ve now engaged your prospect to value the strengths and benefits of your product—not your competitor’s.

Finally, I reinforce the results with a real-life customer case study, one that compellingly demonstrates the value add of my particular product. And, I underscore its authenticity by providing an actual Return on Investment (ROI) from clients that have already made this purchasing decision, detailing how they’ve earned more than the cost of the investment and that their purchase clearly returned a profit. Get your prospect to personally connect to the information by utilizing a similar sized and geographically located company with similar revenue. You want them to clearly see that a competitor he or she respects made this particular investment—and how it’s paid off.

So the crucial key is not just talking about value add, but putting an actual dollar value on it. Because those numbers will add up—and they’ll be revealing. Yes, at first blush your product seems a lot more expensive. But, it’s a fact: cheap can be costly. Just do the math.

That’s Q from the street.

Anthony Quaranta is the president of The Q Group, Hauppauge, N.Y.

Buyer be there: Social media’s growing influence in the purchasing process

Our world has changed tremendously because we have so much technology available to us. And when it comes to using this technology to support and facilitate the buying process, some of the most popular and influential vehicles appear on social media and other digital platforms. A recent study from Deloitte revealed that nearly one in three U.S. consumers are influenced by social media when making a purchasing decision.

The report also showed that consumers who integrate social media into their shopping process are four times more likely to spend additional money on their purchases than those who don’t. The report also showed that the purchases of 47% of millennials are influenced by social media, compared to 19% of other age groups.

And we’re not just talking about consumers. A recent Carnegie Mellon study revealed that 75% of B2B buyers were influenced by the information they found on social media. So it’s clear that we’re witnessing an evolving “digital” shift in the way professionals and consumers make purchasing decisions.

Let’s look back a few year’s when a typical buyer, be it for an automobile or a cleaning service, would secure three to five different quotes. They would also enlist their colleagues’ advice and/or opinion about a product’s performance or the company’s level of service. They might even request customer referrals to further validate their decision-making. So the reality is that “back in the day” buying was a rather arduous process. Oftentimes, it took many weeks or longer, especially since larger-scale commitments went well beyond a single purchase experience and demanded cultivating more lasting relationships.

Today, social media has accelerated the buying process. Rather than a single purchaser having to do extensive research, price comparison and validation, today buyers simply go online. They reach out to their friends on Facebook, their followers on Twitter, or their connections on LinkedIn, soliciting first-hand reviews, comments and experiences. And they also utilize a plethora of websites to shop the best deal.

And do they believe what they find out? Remember the meme that says:  “I read it on the Internet, so it must be true?” Yes, people do take the information and referrals they receive online very seriously. As a matter of fact, I’ve heard stories about folks using their connections on LinkedIn to connect with other professionals that they wanted to get in touch with. And, as every salesperson knows, a personal introduction has far more value than none at all.

So as a salesperson today, you need to think about the power of technology that both you—and your customers—have incredibly easy access to. And that means not just social media, but a plethora of other digital resources (e.g., search engines, blogs, etc.) that both enable and expedite the decision-making process. According to a Buyersphere Report, although the actual buying process on social media is somewhat similar to traditional buying, the channels used vary according to the buying stage, specifically:

  • Stage 1. Awareness: Identifying and defining a need—Facebook and blogs.
  • Stage 2. Consideration: Identifying potential suppliers—LinkedIn and blogs.
  • Stage 3. Conversion: Final supplier selection—Twitter and Facebook.

So make sure your company is using social media optimally by having a presence wherever your best prospects may be congregating. Talk with your customers—find out what social media networks they’re on, and which ones they think are the most credible. Moreover, be an information gatherer about your competition. Check out their websites and their social media. You can learn a ton about customer satisfaction by reading comments that appear on your competitors’ Facebook pages. And, naturally, protect your own online reputation by diligently monitoring your online presence and what your own customers are saying about your company and its products.

And, perhaps my most important point, when done correctly, electronic platforms have incredible power to target and isolate your particular decision maker. That’s an advantage that is pretty new—and pretty powerful. So don’t forget to promote your social media presence by advertising the forums you participate in within your traditional marketing strategy and collateral as well.

It’s time to take social media seriously. It is not a fad and it’s not just about customer retention. Because of its on-going growth, social media has an unprecedented ability to engage new, viable customers through information, education and mutual experience.

That’s Q from the street.

Anthony Quaranta is the president of The Q Group, Hauppauge, N.Y.

Ask the experts? Please do! As consumers, we’re all wannabe marketers

Being in the strategic marketing arena for more than 25 years, it still somewhat surprises me when clients and their colleagues assume they know more about the field than my fellow marketing professionals or I do. But, what I’ve come to realize is marketing is probably the only critical business function that everyone thinks they’re qualified to oversee. Consider this: How often does someone tell his or her CFO how best to enter an accumulated depreciation entry; or instruct an engineer how best to regulate liquid flow? Simply put, it’s my experience that marketing is “faked” a whole lot easier than knowledge of finance, engineering, etc.

And why is that? Because as consumers, we’re all wannabe marketers. Each and every day we’re bombarded with television and radio commercials, flashy print ads, direct mail, and web banners and pop-ups. We know what we like—and what we don’t like. And, more often than not, we’re eager to share our perspective—and try to convince others than our feelings are not just valid, but spot on.

Perhaps a more compelling reality about today’s marketing culture has been unearthed by the digital age and social media, in particular. Corporate Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as YouTube accounts, encourage everyone in the company to join in and promote the brand. So whether you’re the admin or the auditor, you’re invited (and sometimes expected) to market your company’s core values and capabilities.

Of course there are cases where a client has largely ignored marketing logic and has succeeded, the most obvious (and rare I might add) being Apple’s Steve Jobs. I think most would agree that in many ways he was not just the consummate marketer, but the consummate consumer as well, and one who defied conventional wisdom. His opinion about a marketing staple, focus groups? In a 1985 interview, Jobs said, “We built (the Mac) for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research.” Twelve years later he said, “A lot of times people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

But most of us aren’t Steve Jobs. And that’s why successful client/agency relationships are so critical to a company’s marketing strategy. But all worthwhile relationships require both parties to put in the work. I believe there can be some pre-emptive measures that, to an extent, lessen non-productive “marketing wannabe” situations, and they start with a better defined understanding of the agency/client roles, including:

* Realistic approach: As the agency, I recognize that my clients won’t accept all of my recommendations, just as all of my recommendations won’t produce the desired results. However, because I have devoted my entire career to this field, and have the experience that goes along with it, I expect my clients to utilize my expertise to their company’s advantage.

* Knowledge sharing: An agency that is not industry-specific (e.g., pharmaceutical) must consistently work hard to be an expert in the client’s field. But the client also needs to understand that it’s their job to continually share marketing information with the agency. Why is that? Because it stands to reason that the client will have a keener understanding of its customers simply because they speak with them daily, and they monitor their competition regularly as well. The bottom line is this: More knowledge shared with the agency equals better understanding of the market which equals stronger results to the bottom line.

* Communication: It’s critical that clients communicate marketing goals to their employees so that their team has an understanding of not just what direction/strategies are being implemented, but why. Likewise, it’s the agency’s responsibility to conduct regular client meetings that detail what’s being done and what’s been achieved, and whether or not it’s time to change course. If results are not communicated frequently, the agency is not properly championing its abilities and value to the client.

At the end of the day, a winning agency/client relationship comes down to one thing: collaboration. The agency is not always right, but the agency’s value to the client is that it focuses solely on marketing and the latest trends, and that it has the client’s success in mind always. There is room for opinion, but it’s up to the agency to demonstrate a level of expertise and a track record of success that makes these opinions less frequent.

And, yes, I would like to know what you think. Email me your comments at q@qgroupltd.com

Anthony Quaranta is the president of The Q Group, Hauppauge, N.Y.

New tools for the toolbox: What’s really new about cross-media marketing?

As I look at the end of this year and get ready for the next, I think about what to improve upon or do a bit better. One thing that comes to mind is a clearer understanding and use of the different on-line marketing techniques that exist today, techniques that utilize predictive analytics, content analytics and data mining in order to attract customers. In other words, developing effective one-to-one cross media strategies. Cross media marketing uses a variety of media types to integrate a marketing message into a prospect’s consciousness. Rather than just promoting a product on a website, cross marketing can also use mobile apps, paid search results, social media, and content marketing. But whatever the strategy, it all comes down to pinpointing the right target.

Let’s review some target marketing history. In the 1970s, direct mail was king and the use of census data allowed marketers to add demographic data. In addition, other direct marketing tactics shifted from door-to-door to telemarketing. The first email advertisement was deployed in 1978 when Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) sent an email to its users promoting an open house for a new computer model. In the 1980s, direct marketing companies began collecting and selling psychographic data which included personality, opinions and lifestyle. On-line banner displays began in the early 1990s, and Google launched its AdWords search advertising program in 2000. Today? Social media and mobile advertising platforms have arrived.

But no matter the targeting tactic, it’s still back to basics and the ultimate goal: focusing as much of your marketing dollars as possible on the right target in order to generate the largest rate of return. So when we look at all the new media tools, collectively they represent a new toolbox that provides better filters and better ways to isolate your target, and they still include the demographic and psychographic data that make that target a perfect type of client for us. But oftentimes, those traits and situations are not easily uncovered. So these new tools can not only provide more consistent methods of analyzing the data that marketing generates, but new insight for improved decision-making as your campaign moves forward.

But be aware of some of this new media’s annoyances. Yes, there’s a lot of technology—search engine marketing, blogs, on-line advertising—that can drive people to your web site that have the customer traits you’re looking for. But be sure to analyze the type of targets that each one of these different mediums is generating for you. You may discover that you’re getting people who really just want to know what you know. Some are just “trolling” the web to find who can help them market their own business.

So the real key is being able to utilize today’s tools and the resultant improved data in a way where it better attracts your target, or provides the opportunity to be more focused on your target in the future. If you analyze which mediums are driving your best content, I think you’ll find that perhaps the most important step is to actually follow through on your leads right to the point of conversion or conclusion. Personally, when it comes to sales, I prefer that people come to a “conclusion.” That conclusion might not result in a sale today, but I formed a relationship which could turn into a sale down the road.

Here’s the bottom line: whatever your current target marketing strategy, if it is providing fairly predictable outcomes, you’ll be able to do more of it—and you’ll keep getting better at it. Just keep focusing your marketing efforts on the mediums that deliver the highest returns. And that’s what we all need to focus in on as we sift through the mounds (and mounds) of information we collect in our electronic in-boxes each day.

That’s Q from the street.

Anthony Quaranta is the president of The Q Group, Hauppauge, N.Y.

Sizzle or substance? Execution is the real big idea in business development and marketing

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with a prospective client who said, “We can’t wait to hear your ideas.” I took that as simply a part of our conversation, and not necessarily an important part considering the many challenges they faced. But it got me thinking about where the real value lies in business development and marketing.

Everybody craves ideas, and some more than most. What does an “idea” mean to you? Is it something that no one has ever thought of before? Is it an innovative approach to a special event? Or a compelling promotional offer? Or is it simply, as someone once said, “a fresh pair of eyes?”

Marketing ideas serve one simple purpose. And that’s to attract the attention of your prospect or buyer. So what’s most important is knowing the type of prospect you’d like to attract. Clients often say, “We’re not looking just to give something away for free or at a discount.” That’s usually because in truth a monetary incentive may not always attract the right type of customer. The key is in providing your ideal prospect—the person willing to pay your pricing level and who wants to be associated with your product or service – with an impetus to purchase.

For example, why do we often see images of successful people in print campaigns? Because most of us like to associate and assimilate ourselves with successful people. So ideas that are customized and catered to reflect your ideal prospect are essential. But beyond that you’re really not just looking for an “idea.” You’re looking for its execution.

It’s in the execution where the rubber meets the road. Consider this: How often has a client or prospect said, “We’ve already tried that idea.” Well, the reality is, for most businesses today, there aren’t many truly original ideas left. Think of well-established industries like automobiles or pest control or realty. In their long history, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a recent revolutionary marketing approach.

Sure, you may be thinking that automobile leasing is a fairly new marketing phenomenon. Think again. The earliest record of equipment leasing occurred around 2010 B.C.! And it was in the late 1940s – more than 60 year’s ago – when significant automobile leasing began on both an individual and fleet basis.

So where can you improve and what will make all the difference? Simply put, the real big idea is in the execution – the tactical plan and the follow through. And perhaps nowhere is this better illustrated than in the recent unmatched success of the Ice Bucket Challenge which raised an unprecedented amount of money for ALS in a very short period of time. Was it a new idea? No. Similar ice bucket challenges have been used for years to raise money for charity. What was new this time around was the execution of the idea: a social media marketing campaign that quickly went viral. And what did millions and millions of people see on their computers, Smartphones, tablets and televisions? Both celebrities and normal folks doing – and saying – the same thing over and over and over again.

That’s because repetition is also essential in marketing, the actual consistency of a concept or the consistency of a message. When a marketing message is first launched, it might not appear to make an impact. Think about 1978 when FedEx first communicated, “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” Today, just the word “FedEx” means overnight delivery the world over. And although their taglines continue to evolve (e.g., “The world on time”), FedEx persistently and consistently communicates that core message.

Finally, never forget the importance of follow-through. When people initiate a promotion, sometimes they don’t get as much interest as they hoped. So they fail to follow through with the program. They give up too easily. Don’t give up. Marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. The message communicated by your brand gets stronger and stronger each day, year after year. But every time you change that message, you’ve reset the whole board and are basically starting all over again.

So exactly what’s my big idea? It’s simple: Don’t ignore an idea because your competitors might have already done it. Plan to do that idea in a way that’s consistent, memorable and monitored. And always remember: No one stole your idea. They just executed it better.

That’s Q from the Street

Anthony Quaranta is the president of Q Group, Hauppauge, N.Y.

We may need to sell cheaper – but not any less: Maximizing today’s communication tools

As businesses keep evolving and finding ways to function more effectively and efficiently, I’m noticing continuous improvement in managing the cost of sales. The process itself has significant overhead, with some estimates as high as $600 to $800 per individual sales call at an average sized company. But, as we’re challenged with making our companies more efficient, we also must compete with on-line sources and new distribution channels. And that means developing ways to bring our product to market even sooner.

On second thought, sometimes it’s not really about bringing the product to market faster; it’s about bringing ourselves to market more efficiently and expeditiously. Consider the task of commuting, getting in the car and driving to an account. Unquestionably, the days of just stopping by simply don’t exist anymore. Not only is it just too expensive, but most clients don’t have a lot of unscheduled time, making unannounced visits downright annoying.

But when we do schedule appointments, we need to have a clear purpose and objective. And, even if we don’t communicate “face to face,” we can still do it “in person” using WebEx or other types of teleconferencing. Many of my clients have reduced their travel budgets by over 35% in the last year simply by initiating digital visits if they do not relate directly to a sale. Of course, you need to manage these platforms carefully and be hypersensitive to the needs and perceptions of your clients. But, even the most traditional client appreciates not only the need to better manage costs, but the convenience and resourcefulness that are inherent in teleconferencing.

Another on-line tool is, of course, email, but that’s if it’s used sparingly and if it’s to the point. One of email’s drawbacks is that issues don’t get resolved. Oftentimes an email’s purpose gets lost in email strings that go on endlessly. There’s never any closure because the email lacks a call to action. But, just like in any sales encounter, an email needs to include a request and/or resolution. Maybe state it within the subject line, or at least immediately in the first paragraph.

And, how is your company actually marketing your product or service? Today’s advertising budgets are a fraction of what they used to be. And, direct mail? Incredibly expensive. I don’t like dating myself, but I can remember postcard programs costing $0.12 and $0.13 apiece. Today the cost has tripled to around $0.35. Naturally, we can debate about direct mail’s effectives versus that of email solicitations. But the fact of the matter is every different marketing tactic has a purpose and a place at the right time for the right product or service. And it’s your job to find that balance by clearly defining your target/influencer and what message or opportunities will resonate with the people in that group.

Lastly, don’t forget to explore inexpensive and more efficient ways for you to be able to reach out to solid prospects. Maybe it’s going to meetings they go to, or providing free, helpful information. Or it’s using your company website to exploit the power of pull marketing—that’s getting your customers to come directly to you. There are a lot of website programs designed to pull in clients that are very likely to be interested in what you’re selling. And it’s also a fantastically efficient way to generate new leads.

So the next time you think about your marketing plans, think about what it’s going to cost, and if your strategies will help you achieve your goals more efficiently. And think about how you sell to your clients and the ways you can do that more efficiently as well. You may discover new tools and tactics that can to do things cheaper. But never ever do them any less.

That’s Q from the street.

Anthony Quaranta is the president of Q Group, Hauppauge, N.Y.

Success in sales? Know thy brand – Revisiting the basics: Company vision, core values and USP

It still amazes me when I speak to some salespeople—particularly those who represent a huge brand their company has spent tons of money to develop—that they can’t articulate brand basics: vision, core values, and unique selling proposition. So, let’s revisit the basics of your sales success.

Company vision. Unlike a mission statement which states what a business wants to be in the here and now, a company vision statement is all about what it aspires to be in the future. Its about purpose and values. How does the brand view its role in the world, or within the industry it serves? What does the brand want to achieve? And how will these achievements benefit their customers?

Core values. A company’s vision is typically built upon its core values, the things that shape its culture and its character. To be successful, what commitments does your brand demand? Core values can include such things as social responsibility, honesty and integrity, family ideals, quality, and/or the most advanced technology. And they’re also a highly practical business tool as they provide benchmarks and guidance when making decisions.

Unique selling proposition (USP). I speak about the importance of USPs constantly because too many companies still fail to take them seriously. The bottom line is this: if you can’t define why your product or service provides a unique competitive advantage, how can you expect your prospects to? As Theodore Levitt, professor at Harvard Business School remarked, “Differentiation is one of the most important strategic and tactical activities in which companies must constantly engage.”

The infamous “elevator speech” provides the quintessential opportunity for you to succinctly articulate a USP. You’re inside an elevator and standing next to you is one of your biggest prospects. You’ve got two minutes at most to converse. What to say? Many of us offer a polite hello, ask what type of business they’re in, and then communicate something familiar like, “That’s what I do. Perhaps I can get an appointment with you so we can talk further.”

How does this top prospect respond? “Why don’t you talk with my assistant who makes my appointments?” More importantly, what does the top prospect remember? That he or she was just (poorly) pitched by yet another non-descript vendor.

Which is why your elevator speech must include your USP. Here’s mine: “Hi. My name is Anthony, and I’m with the Q Group. We provide business development services that guarantee results. In other words, if our recommendations don’t work, you don’t pay.” Now, I have the prospect’s full attention.

Granted, it’s never easy to identify a truly unique differentiator. But it is tremendously important for you to be able to tell prospects why you stand out above your competition, and why they should do business with you. Try creating an opportunity, or a compelling argument that says what you deliver offers an advantage that they’re not getting from their current supplier. But remember that a USP is not an opinion. It’s a fact. For instance, “Our product is made out of the finest steel of any product in the industry.” Or, “We have guaranteed replacement service for the lifetime of the product.”

Keep in mind that the USP does not have to pertain to the product or service. It might be about you. “I bring 30 years industry experience to your company. So not only will you benefit from my company’s product and service, but from my insights and track record when it comes to issues that your business is facing.” Or your company may be the USP. “We’ve been in business 40 years, more than any other company in the field.” Or, “We have the most experience.” Or, “We offer the largest service team.”

Lastly, it’s extremely effective to come equipped “in the elevator” with some customer testimonials. You don’t have to have them written down, but success stories that are industry-specific are not only highly relevant, but highly compelling.

As always, successful selling comes back to brand basics: vision, core values, and unique selling proposition. And, naturally, all need to be articulated consistently to the right target. How many times do we have to tell our salespeople they’re spending too much of their time talking to folks who are either not their clients, or not decision-makers. (How do you determine targets? That’s a topic for another day!) So identify your targets and clearly communicate your brand basics. And start selling.

That’s Q from the street.

Anthony Quaranta is the president of Q Group, Hauppauge, N.Y.

Developing your database: Getting back to basics – Protect it, nurture it and grow it

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of businessmen that represented large companies with sales of $50 million or greater. I asked a couple of questions about their marketing and sales efforts, and we talked about a number of things that were prerequisites for any successful business generation process. One of the strategies mentioned repeatedly was fundamental database development.

I believe that, besides its people, a company’s database is its most valuable asset. And it’s why database protection is so critical. Employees need to understand that the company owns the database, and no one should access it for anything other than company use. It should also be specified in company guidelines and non-disclosure agreements that the database is company property. That’s because the staff compiles databases while their employer is paying them. What’s more, some database names are either purchased by the company or collected on company time at networking or marketing events. Of course, if a staff member brings his or her own contacts to the table when they join your organization that should be clearly noted.

Database names are managed through classifications. Databases should not be comprised of just clients, but former clients and prospects. The way you classify names and the level at which you classify them will have a tremendous impact on your ability to leverage their sales potential. See sample classifications in the chart.

If you’re looking to start or better categorize a current database, probably the most popular contact management system is Microsoft Outlook. Although it is not a true CRM system, it does easily integrate into its own and other CRM systems. Even the very basic of contact management programs give you the ability to categorize contacts.

Once you classify your database, the marketing opportunities—or rather the revenue opportunities—are ready for your execution. That’s because often the easiest sales to find are within your own database. Once you classify your customers in categories, you can easily market and upsell products and services. And using classifications like OPP and VPO, management can more easily focus its efforts on where dollars will soon be invested.

Most importantly, remember that a database management system is a database of people who are related to companies. In today’s world of personalized marketing, the person’s name is the focal point of customer relationship management. Where many companies fall short today is their lack of effort to migrate all valuable contacts from a company into their database. When you think about it, why limit your voice by filtering it to just one voice?

Finally, how do you grow your database? The fact is, whatever your database now is, it’s too small. Remember sales and prospecting is a numbers game. If 1,000 e-mails get you 10 responses, 10,000 e-mails will get you 100, and so on. But never ever mistake quantity for quality. Don’t focus on the number of contacts you can add, but their ultimate value.

In business generation, there’s nothing more fundamental than this: A well-compiled, well-classified database gives you the power to communicate with customers, prospects and colleagues efficiently and in a timely fashion. So take a moment to review your company’s database. And then protect it, nurture it, and grow it.

That’s Q from the street.

Anthony Quaranta is the president of Q Group, Hauppauge, N.Y.

The business of referrals? Give and you shall receive.

What’s your typical conversation starter? Does it focus on the weather? A local sports team? House business? I always talk about having a plan for your sales call. And part of that plan includes starting off the conversation in the direction you want it to go.

How do I typically start my conversation? I ask direct questions that help me understand the challenges my prospect faces when trying to obtain new business. Their answer can touch on a variety of things, including what competitors they consider to be a threat, what economic trends are keeping them up at night, or what areas of their operation could use improvement or outright change.

But, most importantly, the answers to this conversation starter let me assess my opportunity to help them immediately—through a referral. With one-to-one networking, the intent is to show interest in the person. But in sales, the focus should always be on the customer and that customer’s business. And this demands that you take the time to learn more about what matters most to them. That often translates into helping them find new business and prospects. After all, is there really any better way to get someone’s attention than offering them business with no strings attached?

Curiously for some, referrals are somewhat of a lost art. Which is rather regrettable since a steady stream of business referrals is what makes many companies enjoy business stability and/or growth year after year. And considering today’s endless platforms to connect with other professionals through social media and robust data mining strategies, the ability to provide referrals is really easier than ever before.

For me, every single one of my prospects and clients make up a network that is uniquely mine. So, as I’m speaking with a prospect or client, my brain is forever scanning my personal contact list to see if there’s a potential to not only recommend business, but to eliminate the obstacle or challenge that the client has expressed.

Another bit of conversation-starter information I always try to elicit is my prospect’s USP, or Unique Selling Proposition. Exactly why do people use their product or service? What sets it apart from all the others? What makes it better? Different? The key is to uncover something that the competition can’t also stake claim to. The USP is particularly critical for small businesses who are forced to compete with other small companies that seem to provide no compelling area of differentiation.

Most businesses consist of 15-20 clients that make up the lion’s share of their revenues. And, when you ask a businessperson why their clients work with them, if you get the right answer, you will have uncovered their distinctive secret. It might be the innovative way they conduct business. Or a service that most clients don’t have the staff to take care of. It could be loyal, trusting relationships that continue to stand the test of time. But whatever sets them apart, once you uncover their USP is, it becomes easier for you to refer relevant, new business to them.

Believe me, no matter what line of work you’re in, this “give to get” approach works. Because it demonstrates that you’re putting your client’s business success before yours. So be sure your conversation starters are designed to give the client something first. You’ll be amazed at the dividends you receive in return.

That’s Q from the street.

Commit to these marketing cornerstones, and watch your business grow

Doubts and second guessing are the bane of true potential. We’ve all seen a golfer who suddenly thinks he’s using the wrong club or hasn’t lined his shot up right. The result? A bogey or worse. The same holds true when it comes to committing to a marketing plan.

Folks lack commitment for a couple of reasons: Some don’t believe in the plan or think it has the “legs” to take their company in a better or new direction. Others simply can’t stay focused (or patient) long enough to let the fruits of the plan come to fruition.

Here are the marketing cornerstones that demand your commitment from the get-go. They represent the foundation by which you can build an effective marketing plan.

* Mission Statement. Every organization, big or small, needs a mission statement which tells people – employees and clients alike – why you’re in business. For example, “We’re in business to provide phenomenal service to people in the commercial real estate industry at the lowest cost possible.” Or, consider Disney’s simplistic – but true – mission statement: “To make people happy.” Too many company decision-makers can’t articulate their mission. And if they don’t know what it is, how can they possibly expect their employees to provide a consistent message when dealing with customers?

* USP or Unique Selling Proposition or Unique Selling Perspective. Most clients lack a clear-cut answer to what their USP is. And, if they do, it’s not particularly unique or exclusive. In today’s hotly competitive marketplace, a USP that states, “We offer great customer service” may not be particularly compelling. So pay close attention to what your competitors are claiming. If it’s the same thing, it’s not a USP.

How can you develop a USP that differentiates you? Take a closer look at your product or service and determine what’s built into it that no one else has. Or, look at yourself, as a salesperson, for a USP. For example, “I bring 28 years of experience in all aspects of the realty business.” Or perhaps you’ve serviced the area longer than anyone else. Maybe your USP has to do with your company, how long it’s been in business and how many customers it has helped.

* Elevator speech. Pretend you’re on the bottom floor of an elevator and you’re going to the 12th floor to pitch the CEO – who just happens to be standing right next to you. What would you succinctly say to her about your business – and why she should consider it? It’s the tried-and-true elevator speech, and it’s extremely impactful when trying to get your team on the same page with a consistent marketing message. Start by putting your employees on the spot. Ask them to recite their elevator speech. You’ll be surprised how many don’t even know where to begin.

* Positioning. A company name without a positioning statement or tagline attached to it will rarely be remembered. Consider “Excellence in realty for over 50 years,” Or “Providing commercial property services to healthcare providers.” Now, when people experience or see your brand, they instantly know what you do and what you stand for. Then, commit to the consistency of your brand, its logo, and positioning statement. After a year or two, people will tell you that they’ve seen your ads. That’s because they recognize the look and the message as yours and yours alone. Look at all media, online and off. Major brands are consistent in their look and feel. Their marketing material may change, but their identity – logo and tagline – remain the same for at least a year or two. Many for years longer.

I meet people every day who want to grow their company and who say they do a lot of marketing but can never count on the results, or even really keep track of them. That’s simply not true. You can track your marketing efforts. But first and foremost, you must commit to establishing the cornerstones of your marketing strategy – the consistent, differentiating messages that you want your customers and prospects to hear time and time again. That’s the only way to ensure that your investments have a recurring return.

That’s Q from the street.

Anthony Quaranta is the president of Q Group, Hauppauge, N.Y.

GROW – Growing Business Measurably

To those of you interested in growing your business,

On March 8th, we will conduct our first GROW meeting of  2013.

If you have never been to one of the meetings, we combine knowledge sharing, marketing and sales tips with take home value and some laughs. If you’ve ever visited my YouTube Channel, Channel Q, you’ll see that I like to mix in a little fun with my business. Not that I’m not very serious about business, it’s just that I’m so serious, I have to have fun somewhere.  So, I’d like to share with you our agenda:

8:00am – 8:30am  –  Continental Breakfast & Networking
8:30am – 9:30am  –  “Guaranteed Business Growth”  – Topics from Q
9:30am – 10:00am – Q & A with the Pros – Ask Questions to our experienced staff of marketing professionals

For those of you who have been to a GROW meeting, you probably know that I don’t pre-set the topic.  After we settle in, we get to share what our challenges are and what we’d like to learn, and I form my presentation from there.  One thing you can guarantee, it’ll all relate to growing your business. To learn more about GROW and our meetings, follow through to THIS LINK to our Website, and read our topic descriptions.  Make sure to send us your information through our SIGN UP NOW link.  We look forward to meeting you and helping you grow your business to success.

Remember, for your business to GROW you must have REVENUE, OPPORTUNITY, and you will earn WEALTH.

In business as in life, it’s all about what really matters.

Since my last column, a lot has changed for me personally. My home was washed out, and our business went without power for a week. I’m one of the folks who was hit a little harder by Sandy, and I wanted to share my experience in terms of how it might relate to you when dealing with your clients.

As I’ve said many, many times, for me it’s all about having a plan with smart goals. That’s really the foundation of all good sales and marketing work, as a plan lets you measure and gage your performance, while continuing to tweak until things improve.

When I was putting my plan together for the New Year, I realized I couldn’t escape from thinking about my own personal situation. I thought about all the things we lost: just about every belonging in our garage and in our finished basement which served as a storage area. And then the entire first floor. All gone under two feet of salt water.

I thought about what needed to be replaced: the refrigerator, stove and cabinets, plus basic furniture. Beyond that there was all the other stuff I had gathered over the years. A whole host of things that I spent time collecting and protecting.

But here’s what I learned: a minimum amount of things hold a maximum amount of memories.  We lost 5,000 photos, but when we went through them we probably only needed 50 or 100. I had a collection of 500 golf books. Yes, they were valuable, but only three or four of them truly meant something to me.

In business, there are multiple things we do for our clients, to take care of them and protect them. And to maintain their patronage.  But the core of these relationships consists of just a few meaningful deliverables. And these deliverables are why a client budgets hard-earned dollars to use your services.

What deliverables does your client value in your relationship? If you’re working in business development like I do, the deliverables are new accounts won, new orders completed, plus the amount and depth of new contact history, as well as the success achieved by penetrating existing accounts.

Take a moment to ask yourself what are the things you do for your clients. Review what you put resources against, such as filing different things for years and holding onto past records, notes and samples. You may realize that you don’t remember the last time you really looked at any of this—or even if your client ever asked for them. Because what most clients are interested in is recent results.

Too many of us overreact to this by thinking, “How could you forget all the other things I did for you?”  But, honestly, it’s not about what you did for your client yesterday. Always remember, it’s your client’s financial responsibility to make sure that the expense that’s going out to you has a quantifiable return that can not only be justified, but can be built upon.

I found out the hard way that there are so many things I’ve collected and gathered in my personal life. And there are so many things I do for clients. But the common thread here is there’s really just a handful of things that hold real meaning, real value. And it’s your job to know exactly what those things are. So, ask your client, “What’s the most important thing me or my company does for you?”

Sometimes the client is not even sure, but help them cultivate the conversation so they understand where you’re going and how you’re working to get them there. Decide on a list of the three or four things that really matter, and review the list every three months or so. Because your client isn’t thinking about that list every day. They might be collecting things and experiences with you just like I’ve collected all those non-essential items at my home that have been literally floating around for the last couple of weeks.

But there are those three or four things that your client can’t do without. And those are what are important in your relationship.

That’s Q from the street.

 

P.S. I’m a lucky one, but there’s a lot of people out there that need a lot of help. So do your best to help someone out.  Thanks.

Beyond the pitch? The person.

As salespeople, we all know how to communicate what sets our product and service apart from the competition. Whether it’s 24/7 service. The largest inventory. Your company’s added value. Yet, many of us fail to realize what else we bring to the table: our decidedly unique perspective.

The fact is your relationship with your client should consist of many roles that go far beyond the product or service or company you represent. And, to be effective, each must be enhanced with your own individual style. Take a look at the following roles you bring to the table, and think about how your clients would value them. But let me assure you that each of these qualities is inherent in all rainmakers, the sales leaders in your particular industry.

1. Knowledge sharer. Your understanding of an entire industry, and what leads to success or failure, is unequaled. After all, how often do clients have the opportunity to speak to someone who has been in forty or fifty companies that do similar things that they do? Very rarely. Naturally, we’re not looking to tell one client another client’s business. But, specifics aside, you can certainly convey the insight you have gained, and offer advice and recommendations based on that insight.

2. Forecaster. If a client is struggling when creating a new marketing project, or planning an expansion, or recruiting talent, these may be situations that you’ve also experienced. So why not protect your client from making moves that have pitfalls based on what you’ve seen and/or observed? You possess a unique ability to predict an outcome based on people who have done similar projects and had the same type of issues that their competition would have. So what pain can you help your client avoid?

3. Recruiter. Many years ago, a consultant told me about the technique of redshirting. It’s the practice of finding people that you think might be great for your company or great for a friend of yours. Basically, you categorize that prospect similar to what they do in college football when they “redshirt” to protect a player. As a salesperson, I oftentimes help people with recruiting individuals, and I keep a running file of folks I know that may be looking for work, and/or are talented at what they do. Since my clients know this, they often call and ask me, “Do you know anybody looking to do this?”

4. Business builder. You can help your clients grow their business. Personally, I don’t just provide ideas about how to recruit new business. I actually get leads for my clients. I tell colleagues, “If you’re looking for this service, you should call this guy.” Not as many people do referrals as you may think. So, when a referral does happen, oftentimes clients never know the link. That’s why I always let a client know when I’ve referred his or her company.

5. Trend-sayer. Clients are very, very busy running their own companies. And as much as they want to stay on top on what’s happening in the market, many times that takes a backseat to putting out daily fires. Become the barometer or the weather vane of the industry. Let clients know what’s going on, and what you’re seeing.

When you actively engage in these roles, in addition to your role as a salesperson, what you have are highly personalized benefits that make you an invaluable resource to your clients. All too often we talk about branding products and services. I suggest you also brand yourself as an industry expert, resource and confidant. That’s what you alone bring to the table.

That’s Q from the Street

 

 

What’s in a lead? Opportunity.

Leads.  How did the word originate? And, what approach do people take to them? Basically, a lead is a prospect’s or suspect’s name that eventually can turn into a sale. Literally, the lead leads you into a sale or a transaction.

Over the last year we’ve been working with many clients on adword campaigns.  These campaigns are revealing in the way that people react to the leads they generate.  At our organization we talk about measuring results.  And, in order to measure results on ad word campaigns, it’s imperative that you follow-up on your responses (i.e., leads).  Somewhat surprisingly, I’ve experienced numerous lead follow-up styles, including:

  • No follow-up. Some clients decide not to contact every lead, making assumptions about the region the lead is located in, the size of the job (i.e., not worth their time), etc.
  • Slow follow-up. Some think it’s acceptable to follow up on their leads within a week’s time.
  • Multiple follow-up. One company has at least 3-4 people call the lead. While this might seem impressive, none of these calls is synchronized. So it’s fairly obvious—not to mention, annoying—to the person being called that no one has any idea of the call history and previous conversations.
  • Weak follow-up.   Conversely, some clients don’t follow up enough, thinking that one contact is sufficient. Everybody knows that good salespeople continuously stay on a lead as most sales goals are made after the first five or six calls.

My thoughts on these observations?

It’s curious to me that people prejudge a lead’s value. Hasn’t every professional salesperson at one time or another received a lead that didn’t seem particularly promising at the time? And although that particular sale never materialized, the prospect referred you to a great opportunity with someone else?

Or how about when an earlier lead leaves a company, and they remember how you once helped them out. Now at a new company, that former lead has purchasing power, and you’re the person they’re going to call.  Too many people discount leads and opportunities in the short term without considering their long-term benefits.

And then there’s the issue of turnaround time and speed.  Just think about the people answering ad word campaigns on the 24/7 Internet. They’re browsing for a provider of a service or a product. Typically, if the first person isn’t available, they’ll click on another. And then another.  If you’re unable to contact your “click” immediately, then consider hiring an answering service. Some will immediately page you on your cell phone so you can make a prompt connection with your lead.

Perhaps the best method for taking leads seriously is to calculate what one lead is costing you. There’s a statistic called CPL, or cost per lead.  Often times CPL is used in media plans, but I don’t see any reason why people can’t apply it to other types of marketing.

I have clients whose CPL range anywhere from $100 to maybe a couple of dollars apiece.  Now, certainly at the $100 range it’s pretty unusual to see someone not jump all over it, but it may surprise you that some still don’t. So calculate your cost per lead and then remember what Dale Carnegie spoke about in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. He stressed that leads were really the opening of a conversation and the beginning of a relationship. And, if you treat them as such, respectfully, I believe you’ll have greater results.

So start tracking your leads—and start valuing them. And make your absolutely 110 percent best effort to follow-up with speed, tenacity and preparedness.

 

That’s Q from the street.

 

 

 

Planning or failing?

 


Funny thing how we all assume we have a plan.  Everybody throws the “plan” word around like it just happens. But the plain fact is it doesn’t.  Because if we don’t have a plan—a written plan—with specific goals and specific action steps to achieve those goals, we don’t have a plan.  We have a wish.  I for one am not big on wishing. I like to have a plan that I can check regularly. So even if I don’t achieve the ultimate goal, I’m able to check the progress I’ve made towards it.

 

 

There’s a fascinating story from the book “What They Don’t Teach You in the Harvard Business School” by Mark McCormack whereby the author recounts a study conducted on students in the 1979 Harvard MBA program.  The students were asked, “Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?” Turns out only three percent of the graduates had written goals and plans; 13 percent had goals, but they were not in writing; and a surprising 84 percent had no specific goals at all.

 

Ten years later, the class members were interviewed againThe 13 percent of the class who had goals were earning, on average, twice as much as the 84 percent who had no goals at all. Moreover, the three percent who had clear, written goals were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97 percent put together! Obviously, it’s well worth it to write things down.

 

So, exactly what’s a plan?  Simply put, a plan makes clear what you’re trying to achieve; that is, what your objectives are. How much do your want to grow your company financially in the New Year? How are you going to position your company for growth, e.g., a low-cost provider, or as the high-cost provider who also delivers the best service? Whatever it may be, your objective needs to be clear. You also need to define your targets so once you identify the market you want to grow in, you can determine the clients that you’re going to go after. So right there you basically have an objective of where you want to take your company, exactly what it is you’re selling, and whom you’re planning to sell to.

 

The next part of your plan is setting goals. The majority of goals need to specifically deliver quantitative results that lead toward the achievement of your overall objective. I talk to many of my clients about SMART goals because I believe in them—and they’re an excellent device for setting goals. SMART goals are:

 

o

SpecificGet right to the point and avoid broad, grandiose wishes.

o

Measurable. “A 20 percent increase in existing clients’ total revenue.”

o

Agreed upon. Everyone involved agrees that the goal is achievable.

o

Resources available. Manpower, marketing, etc., will be made available to help support the achievement of the goal.

o

Time dated.  A calendar commitment to when the goal will be reached.

 

Another effective tool when setting goals are Key Performance Indicators (KPI).  I call them critical activities.  These are measurements that help chart and monitor theprogress being made toward the goal.  For example, you might set a goal to land 100 new clients. And you mightcommit to getting ten new clients a month. But, how?

 

Maybe it’s done through telemarketing workConsider this scenario: Historically for your organization, it’s been shown that you can generate one appointment for every 30 phone calls madeMoreover, your track record also shows that for every appointment made, “a third” of a client is achieved. Bottom line is, every threeappointments produces one new client. If you do the math, you’ll need to generate 9,000 phone calls, or about 750 calls per month.  Definitely doable, if you’ve got the right resources. Naturally, the calls need to followed up by the next critical activity:  your proven sales process, and making the close.

 

So that’s an example of how to go about laying out a plan.  A plan that’s, in fact, an action plan.  Because that’s the only type of plan I believe in.  Naturally, there are plans that offer great reading in the Harvard Business Journal. But when it comes to most small-to-medium sized businesses, a plan that produces action produces results.  

Thats it for now

And that’s Q from the street

Beyond the pitch? The person. What you bring to the table is your unique perspective

As brokers, we all know how to communicate what sets our product and service apart from the competition. Whether it’s 24/7 service. The largest inventory. Your company’s added value. Yet, many of us fail to realize what else we bring to the table: our decidedly unique perspective.

The fact is your relationship with your client should consist of many roles that go far beyond the product or service or company you represent. And, to be effective, each must be enhanced with your own individual style. Take a look at the following roles you bring to the table, and think about how your clients would value them. But let me assure you that each of these qualities is inherent in all rainmakers, the sales leaders in your particular industry.

Knowledge sharer

Your understanding of an entire industry, and what leads to success or failure, is unequaled. After all, how often do clients have the opportunity to speak to someone who has been in 40 or 50 companies that do similar things that they do? Very rarely. Naturally, we’re not looking to tell one client another client’s business. But, specifics aside, you can certainly convey the insight you have gained, and offer advice and recommendations based on that insight.

Forecaster

If a client is struggling when creating a new marketing project, or planning an expansion, or recruiting talent, these may be situations that you’ve also experienced. So why not protect your client from making moves that have pitfalls based on what you’ve seen and/or observed? You possess a unique ability to predict an outcome based on people who have done similar projects and had the same type of issues that their competition would have. So what pain can you help your client avoid?

Recruiter

Many years ago, a consultant told me about the technique of redshirting. It’s the practice of finding people that you think might be great for your company or great for a friend of yours. Basically, you categorize that prospect similar to what they do in college football when they “redshirt” to protect a player. As a salesperson, I oftentimes help people with recruiting individuals, and I keep a running file of folks I know that may be looking for work, and/or are talented at what they do. Since my clients know this, they often call and ask me, “Do you know anybody looking to do this?”

Business builder

You can help your clients grow their business. Personally, I don’t just provide ideas about how to recruit new business. I actually get leads for my clients. I tell colleagues, “If you’re looking for this service, you should call this guy.” Not as many people do referrals as you may think. So, when a referral does happen, oftentimes clients never know the link. That’s why I always let a client know when I’ve referred his or her company.

Trend-sayer

Clients are very, very busy running their own companies. And as much as they want to stay on top of what’s happening in the market, many times that takes a backseat to putting out daily fires. Become the barometer or the weather vane of the industry. Let clients know what’s going on, and what you’re seeing.

When you actively engage in these roles, in addition to your role as a salesperson, what you have are highly personalized benefits that make you an invaluable resource to your clients. All too often we talk about branding products and services. I suggest you also brand yourself as an industry expert, resource and confidant. That’s what you alone bring to the table.

That’s Q from the street.

Anthony Quaranta is the president of Q Group, Hauppauge, N.Y.

Perception or reality? Frequently the two are vastly different! Let the truth be told.

We’ve all heard it said that perception is reality. But the fact is our perception (or, rather misconception) of reality can be a real problem.

Recently, I asked one of my clients what their strengths were. They stated five or so assets that they felt provided very strong advantages when compared to their competition. They also thought some of the tools they had developed were second to none. In addition, they felt that a number of integrity-oriented principles were so superior to their competitors that most of their clients wouldn’t even consider dealing with anyone else. And, of course, they were certain their clients would back them up.

As my firm often does, we conducted an informal, anonymous survey. We phoned some of the client’s customers, telling them we were calling on behalf of one of their vendors. We then identified the vendor, assuring the customer their input would remain anonymous and would not be a part of any written survey. (We do this in order to extract the most honest, unbridled responses.)

As it happens, sometimes when we uncover the actual truth, we discover a vast gap between perception and reality. Or, as in this case, my client’s perception as to its customer’s affinity towards them. Upon completion of the survey, we found that most didn’t believe that my client’s assets were assets at all. As a matter of fact, some thought that one or two of the assets were threats to them.

With regard to my client’s values, the customers surveyed really didn’t see them as something that entered into their bottom-line decision making with regard to both profitability and vendor selection. So, what we have is an organization that thoroughly believes they are distinctively superior to their competitors in certain areas. But what we learned is that these perceptions are far from reality.

So why the disconnect? What we typically uncover is that communication to customers usually falls short. We fail to communicate to them the reasons why we do some of the things we do. We fail to communicate the investments we make in assets in order to make their life easier. And, we fail to communicate the value of our product or service so that each particular client can decide, “This is a really good thing for my company, and there’s a lot of benefits.”

How do we go about fixing this problem? First, before developing tools and assets for clients which we think are creating a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) or advantage, we should first talk to the clients. Ask them what would be something that would be great for them to have, and, if they have a few ideas, ask the client would this be a big benefit to you? And find out exactly what they would like to experience if you could wave a magic wand. Oftentimes, what’s uncovered is that what we think our client wants and what they really need are two different things.

The next step? Once we determine our assets and USP, we need to make sure we clearly communicate these benefits in terms of what they provide to the customer. Whether it’s increased profitability or better value or increased reliability, we need to clearly communicate that benefit on a consistent basis. It may not necessarily be one singular message, but it’s a consistent message. And don’t be afraid to put a dollar value to it. Because a product that is inferior, unreliable, or must be returned, cost companies huge amounts of money every day. If you can eliminate that risk, this savings goes directly to your client’s bottom line.

Famed dancer and choreographer Martha Graham once said, “What people in the world think of you is really none of your business.” But truth be told, through proper, consistent benefits-based communication, you can make it your business.

That’s Q from the Street.

Anthony Quaranta is the president of Q Group, Hauppauge, N.Y.

What’s in a lead? Opportunity if you make an absolute 110% best effort to follow-up

Leads. How did the word originate? And, what approach do people take to them? Basically, a lead is a prospect’s or suspect’s name that eventually can turn into a sale. Literally, the lead leads you into a sale or a transaction.

Over the last year we’ve been working with many clients on ad word campaigns. These campaigns are revealing in the way that people react to the leads they generate. At our organization we talk about measuring results. And, in order to measure results on ad word campaigns, it’s imperative that you follow-up on your responses (i.e., leads). Somewhat surprisingly, I’ve experienced numerous lead follow-up styles, including:

* No follow-up. Some clients decide not to contact every lead, making assumptions about the region the lead is located in, the size of the job (i.e., not worth their time), etc.

* Slow follow-up. Some think it’s acceptable to follow up on their leads within a week’s time.

* Multiple follow-up. One company has at least 3-4 people call the lead. While this might seem impressive, none of these calls is synchronized. So it’s fairly obvious – not to mention, annoying – to the person being called that no one has any idea of the call history and previous conversations.

* Weak follow-up. Conversely, some clients don’t follow up enough, thinking that one contact is sufficient. Everybody knows that good salespeople continuously stay on a lead as most sales goals are made after the first five or six calls.

My thoughts on these observations?

It’s curious to me that people prejudge a lead’s value. Hasn’t every professional salesperson at one time or another received a lead that didn’t seem particularly promising at the time? And although that particular sale never materialized, the prospect referred you to a great opportunity with someone else?

Or how about when an earlier lead leaves a company, and they remember how you once helped them out. Now at a new company, that former lead has purchasing power, and you’re the person they’re going to call. Too many people discount leads and opportunities in the short term without considering their long-term benefits.

And then there’s the issue of turnaround time and speed. Just think about the people answering ad word campaigns on the 24/7 Internet. They’re browsing for a provider of a service or a product. Typically, if the first person isn’t available, they’ll click on another. And then another. If you’re unable to contact your “click” immediately, then consider hiring an answering service. Some will immediately page you on your cell phone so you can make a prompt connection with your lead.

Perhaps the best method for taking leads seriously is to calculate what one lead is costing you. There’s a statistic called CPL, or cost per lead. Often times CPL is used in media plans, but I don’t see any reason why people can’t apply it to other types of marketing.

I have clients whose CPL range anywhere from $100 to maybe a couple of dollars apiece. Now, certainly at the $100 range it’s pretty unusual to see someone not jump all over it, but it may surprise you that some still don’t. So calculate your cost per lead and then remember what Dale Carnegie spoke about in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. He stressed that leads were really the opening of a conversation and the beginning of a relationship. And, if you treat them as such, respectfully, I believe you’ll have greater results.

So start tracking your leads – and start valuing them. And make your absolutely 110% best effort to follow-up with speed, tenacity and preparedness.

That’s Q from the street.

Anthony Quaranta is the president of Q Group, Hauppauge, N.Y.

Ready, set…plan! For most businesses, a plan that produces action produces results

Funny thing how we all assume we have a plan. Everybody throws the “plan” word around like it just happens. But the plain fact is it doesn’t. Because if we don’t have a plan – a written plan – with specific goals and specific action steps to achieve those goals, we don’t have a plan. We have a wish. I for one am not big on wishing. I like to have a plan that I can check regularly. So even if I don’t achieve the ultimate goal, I’m able to check the progress I’ve made towards it.

There’s a fascinating story from the book “What They Don’t Teach You in the Harvard Business School” by Mark McCormack whereby the author recounts a study conducted on students in the 1979 Harvard MBA program. The students were asked, “Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?” Turns out only 3 percent of the graduates had written goals and plans; 13 percent had goals, but they were not in writing; and a surprising 84 percent had no specific goals at all.

Ten years later, the class members were interviewed again. The 13 percent of the class who had goals were earning, on average, twice as much as the 84 percent who had no goals at all. Moreover, the three percent who had clear, written goals were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97 percent put together! Obviously, it’s well worth it to write things down.

So, exactly what’s a plan? Simply put, a plan makes clear what you’re trying to achieve; that is, what your objectives are. How much do your want to grow your company financially in the New Year? How are you going to position your company for growth, e.g., a low-cost provider, or as the high-cost provider who also delivers the best service? Whatever it may be, your objective needs to be clear. You also need to define your targets so once you identify the market you want to grow in, you can determine the clients that you’re going to go after. So right there you basically have an objective of where you want to take your company, exactly what it is you’re selling, and whom you’re planning to sell to.

The next part of your plan is setting goals. The majority of goals need to specifically deliver quantitative results that lead toward the achievement of your overall objective. I talk to many of my clients about SMART goals because I believe in them – and they’re an excellent device for setting goals. SMART goals are:

* Specific. Get right to the point and avoid broad, grandiose wishes.

* Measurable. “A 20 percent increase in existing clients’ total revenue.”

* Agreed upon. Everyone involved agrees that the goal is achievable.

* Resources available. Manpower, marketing, etc., will be made available to help support the achievement of the goal.

* Time dated. A calendar commitment to when the goal will be reached.

Another effective tool when setting goals are Key Performance Indicators (KPI). I call them critical activities. These are measurements that help chart and monitor the progress being made toward the goal. For example, you might set a goal to land 100 new clients. And you might commit to getting ten new clients a month. But, how?

Maybe it’s done through telemarketing work. Consider this scenario: Historically for your organization, it’s been shown that you can generate one appointment for every 30 phone calls made. Moreover, your track record also shows that for every appointment made, “a third” of a client is achieved. Bottom line is, every three appointments produces one new client. If you do the math, you’ll need to generate 9,000 phone calls, or about 750 calls per month. Definitely doable, if you’ve got the right resources. Naturally, the calls need to be followed up by the next critical activity: your proven sales process, and making the close.

So that’s an example of how to go about laying out a plan. A plan that’s, in fact, an action plan. Because that’s the only type of plan I believe in. Naturally, there are plans that offer great reading in the Harvard Business Journal. But when it comes to most small-to-medium sized businesses, a plan that produces action produces results.

So make sure you’ve got a plan this New Year. And see how good things can happen for your business.

That’s Q from the Street.

Anthony Quaranta is the president of Q Group, Hauppauge, N.Y.

In business as in life, it’s about what really matters-Help your clients see how important you are

Since my last column, a lot has changed for me personally. My home was washed out, and our business went without power for a week. I’m one of the folks who was hit a little harder by Sandy, and I wanted to share my experience in terms of how it might relate to you when dealing with your clients.

As I’ve said many, many times, for me it’s all about having a plan with smart goals. That’s really the foundation of all good sales and marketing work, as a plan lets you measure and gage your performance, while continuing to tweak until things improve.

When I was putting my plan together for the New Year, I realized I couldn’t escape from thinking about my own personal situation. I thought about all the things we lost: just about every belonging in our garage and in our finished basement which served as a storage area. And then the entire first floor. All gone under two feet of salt water.

I thought about what needed to be replaced: the refrigerator, stove and cabinets, plus basic furniture. Beyond that there was all the other stuff I had gathered over the years. A whole host of things that I spent time collecting and protecting.

But here’s what I learned: a minimum amount of things hold a maximum amount of memories. We lost 5,000 photos, but when we went through them we probably only needed 50 or 100. I had a collection of 500 golf books. Yes, they were valuable, but only three or four of them truly meant something to me.

In business, there are multiple things we do for our clients, to take care of them and protect them. And to maintain their patronage. But the core of these relationships consists of just a few meaningful deliverables. And these deliverables are why a client budgets hard-earned dollars to use your services.

What deliverables does your client value in your relationship? If you’re working in business development like I do, the deliverables are new accounts won, new orders completed, plus the amount and depth of new contact history, as well as the success achieved by penetrating existing accounts.

Take a moment to ask yourself what are the things you do for your clients. Review what you put resources against, such as filing different things for years and holding onto past records, notes and samples. You may realize that you don’t remember the last time you really looked at any of this—or even if your client ever asked for them. Because what most clients are interested in is recent results.

Too many of us overreact to this by thinking, “How could you forget all the other things I did for you?” But, honestly, it’s not about what you did for your client yesterday. Always remember, it’s your client’s financial responsibility to make sure that the expense that’s going out to you has a quantifiable return that can not only be justified, but can be built upon.

I found out the hard way that there are so many things I’ve collected and gathered in my personal life. And there are so many things I do for clients. But the common thread here is there’s really just a handful of things that hold real meaning, real value. And it’s your job to know exactly what those things are. So, ask your client, “What’s the most important thing me or my company does for you?”

Sometimes the client is not even sure, but help them cultivate the conversation so they understand where you’re going and how you’re working to get them there. Decide on a list of the three or four things that really matter, and review the list every three months or so. Because your client isn’t thinking about that list every day. They might be collecting things and experiences with you just like I’ve collected all those non-essential items at my home that have been literally floating around for the last couple of weeks.

But there are those three or four things that your client can’t do without. And those are what are important in your relationship.

That’s Q from the street.

P.S. I’m a lucky one, but there’s a lot of people out there that need a lot of help. So do your best to help someone out. Thanks.

Anthony Quaranta is the president of Q Group, Hauppauge, N.Y.

The Changing Playing Field Of Tradeshows

In recent years tradeshows have experienced the very sort of highs and lows that make most entrepreneurs wonder why they don’t just cash in for a regular nine to five alternative. The Eighties and Nineties were a boon to the tradeshow and exhibit industry. Companies would spend countless dollars displaying their products and services and entertaining best prospects.

Vendors and suppliers initiated the tradeshow concept because it made economical sense, utilizing one centralized location to display products to a captive, seemingly motivated audience. The gathering of multiple people at a single location also provided a price advantage with regard to travel, hotels, etc. What’s more, companies began to use tradeshows as a reward for sales staff and management. Add to the mix associations that provided educational opportunities for vendors to help train support and other staff. All in all the trade show model was win, win, win.

So the birth of tradeshows began out of a necessity for industries to be more efficient, to unite, to acquire knowledge and training, and to distribute product. But as with most growing trends there comes a point where the push to stand out and one up the competition must be weighed against the bottom line. The September 11 fallout combined with continued economic struggles worldwide forced all of us to take a big step back and re-evaluate our marketing investments.

Today’s tradeshows have taken on a new style and with that style has emerged increased effectiveness. Tradeshows remain a highly efficient gathering place where buyers and sellers can converge and communicate. As a matter of fact, today you’ll find many tradeshows boasting 10 percent increases in attendance, as well as an increase in exhibitors. Yet there are clear distinctions from the past. Gone are logo-branded shopping bags or other promotional items or giveaways. Today, these items are being replaced with “knowledge tools” that help people become more cost-effective when they are selling a product or satisfying their client. And, gone are the days when employees are rewarded with a trip to the annual convention or trade show. Today, statistics show that up to 90 percent of show attendees are true decision makers.

What’s more, many company-sponsored entertainment/cocktail events have also disappeared, replaced by educational and training sessions. Often the educational sessions are provided by associations who have now been added to the group of people who have come together at one gathering place.

So at today’s tradeshow, you’ll see associations, user groups, vendors, suppliers and clients collectively trying to make the most effective use of their travel budget, their time and their staff. Companies are sending the people that need to be there. As a matter of fact, 75 percent of the people who make a purchase tell us that they have visited a trade show and that either their purchasing decision was initiated at a show or it was confirmed at a show.

That’s a very high statistic. So what I suggest to you is to take a step back and take a look at the dollars you are spending. Evaluate your marketing budget and see where you can fit tradeshows back in, or perhaps, how you can do more tradeshows and be more efficient and more effective. There’s one thing for certain: today’s tradeshows remain an effective part of your sales strategy. And, if they’re not part of your plan, you might be missing opportunities. As one of my clients recently asked me, “How much do you think we’re going to do if we go to the tradeshow? And, what do you think the repercussions are if we don’t attend?” I answered his question with another question, “What will your clients think if you’re not there, and what will that cost you?”

As the old adage says: Maybe you simply can’t afford not to do it.

That’s Q from the street.

A changing playing field: Today’s tradeshows take on a new style and emerge with increased effectiveness

In recent years tradeshows have experienced the very sort of highs and lows that make most entrepreneurs wonder why they don’t just cash in for a regular nine to five alternative. The Eighties and Nineties were a boon to the tradeshow and exhibit industry. Companies would spend countless dollars displaying their products and services and entertaining best prospects.

Vendors and suppliers initiated the tradeshow concept because it made economical sense, utilizing one centralized location to display products to a captive, seemingly motivated audience. The gathering of multiple people at a single location also provided a price advantage with regard to travel, hotels, etc. What’s more, companies began to use tradeshows as a reward for sales staff and management. Add to the mix associations that provided educational opportunities for vendors to help train support and other staff. All in all the trade show model was win, win, win.

So the birth of tradeshows began out of a necessity for industries to be more efficient, to unite, to acquire knowledge and training, and to distribute product. But as with most growing trends there comes a point where the push to stand out and one up the competition must be weighed against the bottom line. The September 11 fallout combined with continued economic struggles worldwide forced all of us to take a big step back and re-evaluate our marketing investments.

Today’s tradeshows have taken on a new style and with that style has emerged increased effectiveness. Tradeshows remain a highly efficient gathering place where buyers and sellers can converge and communicate. As a matter of fact, today you’ll find many tradeshows boasting 10% increases in attendance, as well as an increase in exhibitors. Yet there are clear distinctions from the past. Gone are logo-branded shopping bags or other promotional items or giveaways. Today, these items are being replaced with “knowledge tools” that help people become more cost-effective when they are selling a product or satisfying their client. And, gone are the days when employees are rewarded with a trip to the annual convention or trade show. Today, statistics show that up to 90% of show attendees are true decision makers.

What’s more, many company-sponsored entertainment/cocktail events have also disappeared, replaced by educational and training sessions. Often the educational sessions are provided by associations who have now been added to the group of people who have come together at one gathering place.

So at today’s tradeshow, you’ll see associations, user groups, vendors, suppliers and clients collectively trying to make the most effective use of their travel budget, their time and their staff. Companies are sending the people that need to be there. As a matter of fact, 75% of the people who make a purchase tell us that they have visited a trade show and that either their purchasing decision was initiated at a show or it was confirmed at a show.

That’s a very high statistic. So what I suggest to you is to take a step back and take a look at the dollars you are spending. Evaluate your marketing budget and see where you can fit tradeshows back in, or perhaps, how you can do more tradeshows and be more efficient and more effective. There’s one thing for certain: today’s tradeshows remain an effective part of your sales strategy. And, if they’re not part of your plan, you might be missing opportunities. As one of my clients recently asked me, “How much do you think we’re going to do if we go to the tradeshow? And, what do you think the repercussions are if we don’t attend?” I answered his question with another question, “What will your clients think if you’re not there, and what will that cost you?”

As the old adage says: Maybe you simply can’t afford not to do it.

That’s Q from the street.

Anthony Quaranta is the president of Q Group, Hauppauge, N.Y.

Taking the mystery out of social media: It’s time you get onboard

As business directors, we are instruments of change. Over the years, we’ve witnessed paradigm shifts in the way we conduct business and communicate with customers. Yet, when I speak to clients regarding social media, there seems to be such mystery surrounding it. Curiously, most of them already have the innate tools, experience and business savvy that can make them highly effective users of this medium.

Why? Because social media is akin to attending a network meeting, whether it’s a local trade network, a regional business lead generation network or a special-interest association. They all encompass what social media represents.

We’ve readily adapted to a slew of technology that has connected people. Think back to the PC, the fax machine, email, cell phones, texting, and the Internet. All of these technologies have converged on us, enlisting us as their proponents and their drivers. These techno-tools have made us more communicative, more productive and more efficient. And they represent a level of professionalism to both customers and colleagues.

So, exactly what does your experience have to do with social media? Simply put, social media leverages your innate ability to keep making connections. Let’s review some of the major players in the world of social media:

Facebook

This is perhaps the epitome of social media because it enables people to socialize with others, be they friends, family, or just-met acquaintances. It became so ubiquitous so quickly that the business world felt compelled to get involved. Facebook developed corporate pages whereby companies submit a corporate viewing page that must be associated with a person, an administrator, who also has a personal account on Facebook. It’s important to realize that the personal account and the professional page will never be connected. My company has a Facebook page, and I have a personal Facebook page. If someone requests friendship from me on my personal page, I can let them in that world. But on the corporate page, they can just indicate they “like” my company.

LinkedIn

This is a professional business directory. Though global, you can use it to identify and target localized opportunities. Maybe it reveals 50,000 potential clients, but because of your unique selling proposition only 500 are your ideal prospects. LinkedIn gives you the ability to get in contact with those unique people in the industry that’s in your sector. Let’s revisit the association analogy I made earlier. Usually, in every association there’s a vendor, there’s a supplier, and maybe there’s an associated member. With LinkedIn you can get in contact with those people that are in your community and the other communities that you’d like to be in touch with. Folks can check your bio, your background, and your professional credentials. I highly recommend including a photograph of yourself to bring a little more personality to your listing.

Twitter

In essence, Twitter is a brief 140 character electronic press release, providing a cost-effective way to get quick notices out to clients. Folks who read your “tweet” are known as “followers.” My recommendation is for you to follow all the people that you admire, all companies that are your prospects, certainly all your clients, and then, from there, hopefully people will follow you back. Aspire to be Ashton Kutcher, who at last look had over 7 million followers. With one tweet, he can sell a product off the shelf in an hour. Seriously, Twitter bypasses the need to get a notification out via an internal database, or an email that might not be checked promptly, or via snail mail that winds up on the bottom of an in-box.

YouTube

This is your video message to the world. Today, with a digital camera of decent quality, you could upload a video that introduces you and your company “up close and personal” and thanks folks for viewing your channel. Moreover, you can get the word out about your website, and ask viewers to “like” you on Facebook, and “follow you” on Twitter.

The important thing to remember is that social media is a vital part of communication today, and your networking experience—whether it’s within associations, whether it’s referring people to one another, whether it’s finding the trends in your industry that are slightly ahead of the curve—these innate communication abilities give you a distinct advantage in the brave new world that’s social media. Your sustained business experience, your ability to conduct yourself, to both share and seek knowledge, to help others in your industry, to find those really unique things that give you an advantage and your clients an advantage, those are your instinctive skills that can’t be replicated by someone who has great computer skills and 17 different social media accounts. Yes, in time they can develop these skills, but right now, these novices are electronic savvy, not business savvy.

So start embracing the social world to ensure you’re covering all your bases when communicating with clients, prospects, and suppliers. And don’t let social media intimidate you. You’ll discover there are plenty of people out there that want to lend support (don’t forget I’m one of them). And, if you’ve been looking for a way to make yourself feel a little younger, it certainly helps.

That’s Q from the street.

Anthony Quaranta is the president of Q Group, Hauppauge, N.Y.