Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Overcoming the “Field of Dreams” approach

Through-out my 17 years of business development, I have seen many promising start-ups with great products fail. From my personal observations, I have determined that they fail most often due to lack of persistent sales. They assumed that if they built it, customers would come. Most of them ran their bank accounts dry before any significant business came their way. 

I am now working with a new start-up accelerator in the Dallas - Fort Worth area. This motivated me to put my thoughts down in writing as I seek to save others from this common fate. Here are my thoughts.

Owners were busy developing the product and gave little thought as to how to reach a decision maker. They thought that simply being visible was going to generate business. People do not naturally assimilate general information and turn it into an understanding of how that will benefit them. They must be guided to this understanding and then encouraged to make a decision to buy.

Once start-ups realized that no one was seeking them out, they increased their visibility. They went to where the decision makers were looking for information. That was usually trade shows and conferences. After initial failure to attract adequate attention, they “idiot proofed” their message so it could not be missed.

Once a decision maker was reached and interest generated, there was too little follow up. They waited for the person to contact them. If they did go the extra step and tried to contact the decision maker, they failed to persist long enough to close the deal.

Seven Failures in the sales process of start-ups:

1) Expecting people to understand the significance of their product. Product developers were so excited about their product, they thought the benefits of it were clearly visible to others.

2) Failing to understand how far a prospect needs to be led before they understand enough to make a purchase decision. Being simply “interested” may mean that they were only entertained. Sometimes it requires more to bring them to the point where they decide to take further action.

3) “Further action” is not necessarily a decision to purchase. It is often an awareness that more information is required.

4) Failing to follow up. Both parties return to the office and get back into their routine. Unless “closing the deal” is part of someone's routine, chances are, nothing new will happen. You will go back to doing your day job and your prospect will go back to doing his day job.

5) Failing to be persistent. If you follow up, chances are, you will not get through the first time. You will have to repeatedly follow up. There is a sticking point beyond which you will need to progress before you develop a smooth working relationship which generates income. Most people fail to be persistent enough to get past the sticking point.

6) Failing to persist through a lengthy purchase process. Multiple additional meetings at the customer's location may be required before they have all the justification they need to make the decision to buy. Additional people may need to be brought into the process who may have different criteria which need to be addressed. Most or all of the people you will meet will need to be satisfied before you close the deal. You must continue to persist because you are still in that sticky period.

7) Failing to persist when another prospect expresses interest. It is so easy to lose confidence that the deal is ever going to close. When that next great opportunity emerges, it is so hard to not chase it. I have seen this in myself. To continue calling a prospect and never getting through or to continue having conference calls were everyone seems to be finding reasons to not close the deal; it just seems like wasted effort. When another promising opportunity emerges, it feels so logical to put all your effort into making that new deal happen only to end up down the road 6 weeks later at the same point in the sales process. 

I suggest new entrepreneurs form accountability groups with other new entrepreneurs. Your accountability partners need to hold you accountable to persist until you close a deal. And on the flip side, they should be able to help you see when a promising deal is never going to materialize. They are not as close to it as you are. It will be easier for them to remain logical. 

James Snider is the Business Development Director for Accelerant Marketing Alliance, LLC of Grapevine, Texas. www.accelerantmktg.com “Corporate Marketing Department ... one hour at a time.”

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What You Can Learn from the Penny

I heard a discussion on NPR last December concerning the new “penny.” I was amused to hear that a penny actually costs 1.7 cents to make and that, officially, there is no US unit of money called a “penny.” The correct term is “one cent piece.” The original “one cent piece” was about the size of the British half-penny. Our forefathers, being familiar with British coins, dubbed the “one cent piece” the “penny.” The name stuck. Once “penny” came into common use, there was no way the US Treasury was going to get people to switch over to using “one cent piece.” The proper name of this coin was essentially lost.

When it comes to building your brand, make sure you are consistent from the start. If you’re not, your brand will get lost.

I have a client who could not pick his favorite logo, so he uses both of them. You can go to his web site and see one logo and to a retail outlet and see a different logo on his product packaging.  Not only does this reduce the “critical mass” required to make a logo recognizable, but the customer is left wondering if one is the real product and the other is a knock-off. What will that do to your sales?

In another scenario, I worked with an engineering company who would alternate “The Multimedia Experts” with “The Multimedia Connection” depending on who was creating the marketing material. If you have so little logic behind your branding statement, if you can just substitute words, then you will not create a solid brand image. Your marketing materials are not going to work consistently towards your goals.

It is not hard to imagine that there are search engine optimization (SEO) benefits for being consistent but I am going to share an SEO tip that I have only seen once in my two years of research. You can significantly improve your ranking on Google if you will create three social media sites using the same name as your Web page. This is something that should be considered when creating your Web page. For many of you, this could be a problem because your Web page is already locked in and matching names on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter may have already been taken. If your company name or URL (web page address) is fairly unique, however, you have a great opportunity to increase you visibility on the Internet.

Here is an example of what I mean. When we created Accelerant Marketing Alliance, we knew that name was way too long for a URL. We created a unique abbreviated name for our URL: accelerantmktg.com. When we created our Twitter account, we made it match the web page: twitter.com/accelerantmktg. With Facebook: Facebook.com/accelerantmktg. The YouTube channel is in the works and it will be called YouTube.com/user/accelerantmktg. If you have been reluctant to start social media marketing, here is one more reason to do so.  You now know a secret SEO tactic that most of your competition does not know.

In your brand planning, you need to take a variety of things into consideration. For example, how do you manage your success? Most of us are aware of the failure Kleenex had in regaining exclusive use of their brand name once it became generic. Before that, Bayer lost exclusive use of the brand name “Aspirin” and had to build brand awareness of the Bayer name. Some of us will remember when Xerox started promoting the term “photocopies” to prevent the lost of their brand name. Once everyone from your six year old to your grandmother calls “photocopies” a “Xerox,” the brand name is probably gone.

Most of us will never be fortunate enough to achieve the level of success where our company becomes a household name. For the rest of us, the first battle will be “uniqueness.” “Accelerant” is not a unique name for a marketing agency.  When you throw in the different variants such as “Accelerator” and “Accelerate,” you have some branding issues. You can play with the spelling or add content to the name. We considered, “Excellerant” but decided that this might opened up some confusion with “Excel spreadsheets.” We are not accountants. We could have become “Accelerant Marketing of North Texas” but we did not want to limit our reach to just north Texas. We are worldwide. One of our oldest customers is a semiconductor company in Shanghai. In the end, we focused on our objective to form an alliance with our customers in making their success, our success. This gave us the unique name we needed to start building our brand.

At Accelerant, we are serious about our brand. We use a consistent font on all our materials. Even our meeting minutes are done in this font. We use our company slogan on both sides of our business cards. We are consistent with the punctuation for our slogan: “Corporate Marketing Department ... one hour at a time.” The first part must use caps like a department sign in a major corporation. We do “big corporation” marketing. The last part must be in all lower case because that is a conversation between the two of us. We are bringing “big corporation” marketing to the people. Due to this attention to detail, we know who we are, what we offer and how to present our value in as few words as possible.

Make your brand marketing follow a plan or you will be all over the place, spreading a little bit of marketing here and there but not enough anywhere to make a difference. Be consistent with your brand. Use the same name, same logo, same slogan...same colors and font on all your printed materials (business cards, stationary, brochures), ads, Web page, social media, etc. If you do not, then you may end up like the “one cent piece”; everywhere but still unknown.

James Snider is the Business Development Director for Accelerant Marketing Alliance, LLC of Grapevine, Texas. www.accelerantmktg.com “Corporate Marketing Department ... one hour at a time.”

Friday, July 1, 2011

What I learned from working in a nuclear power plant...road warriors

I left Dallas for Rochester on one of those tiny United Express Jets. We connected through Chicago, with delays along the way. What should have taken 8 hours, door-to-door, took 12. I have done a lot of business travel and know that this is the norm. DFW and ORD are particularly bad airports for delays.

During the layover at O'Hare, I got to meet one of the “guys.” I was not sure what to expect, but he was very good natured and talkative. He even seemed a bit excited. He'd just finished another “outage” and was glad to have back-to-back jobs.  I learned later that the men who rewire generators do not make very much money. They fly all over the country, working primarily at power plants. When times are good, they rarely go home. They are true road warriors. When times are bad, they have to worry about making rent. Right now, times are good.

“Outage” is a term I was going to hear over and over for the next several days. This made reference to the planned “power outage” that the Ginna Nuclear Power Plant was going to undergo. This was a time when every employee was reassigned to new duties while maintenance was being done on the major  equipment. The turbines, generator and nuclear reactor would all have maintenance done during this outage. It occurs every 18 months and, as I would soon find out, disrupts the lives of everyone working at the power plant. You can just image. You do something every day based on the fact that electricity is being produced. When electricity stops being produced, your job stops and you start doing something else.

I said that these generator rewiring workers are true road warriors.  Most people who call themselves “Road Warriors” are very pampered professionals who travel a lot. They earn millions of miles on major airlines and millions of points at major hotels...and, therefore, get plenty of upgrades and perks. I see these traveling professionals at first class check-in, every time I go to the airport. They are getting the ticket agent to give them some sort of extra concession. These “Road Warriors” are premium class travelers who get the first class seats, access to the airline lounges, upgrades to nice rooms at nice hotels and eat dinner on fat expense accounts.

The guys I would soon meet are true road warriors. They fly on dozens of cheap, cramped airlines and stay at dozens of cheap hotels. If they are organized enough to keep track of the sundry customer loyalty programs, it will take them years to earn enough miles on any one airline to get multiple free tickets for a family vacation.  It is true that they will stay a month at a hotel, but that is enough to earn them a night or two. Next outage, a different chain and a different frequent guest program. They have all the pain of travel with none of the rewards. They are not treated as one of the privileged premier travelers. Why in the world would they want to travel when they get a week off? And how would they afford the vacation once they got there? The money they make has to go for basic necessities.

Upon arriving at Rochester airport, Joe, my traveling companion, kept pointing to guys and saying “He is one of our guys...” I was never sure, exactly, to whom he was pointing. In a few minutes, I would see the whole crowd at the hotel and get my next glimpse at what I was up against.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What I learned from working in a nuclear power plant...work boots

Now, I thought I knew what work boots were. I have a pair of sturdy hiking boots I wear all the time. However, a friend of mine, who used to work for the BNSF railroad, offered to lend me his work boots. I will be required to wear steel toed boots on this job. I will be working on the "turbine deck" where everyone is required to wear steel toed boots, a hard hat, safety glasses and ear plugs.

I was warned to not get those cheap steel toed boots from Walmart. My shift will be from 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM. Twelve hours, 6 nights a week (with the potential of going to a full 7 day week) on a concrete floor. This is not a place for $70 boots. I was encouraged to spend the extra $100 for a good pair.

$170 for a pair of boots that I will wear for 6 weeks, then probably never wear again?

I called my friend from the railroad and asked if he could lend me his boots ASAP. I figured, twelve hours on a concrete floor is no place to be breaking in a pair of boots either.

Once my friend handed over his work boots to me, I was full of wonder and intimidation. These things must weigh 10 pounds each. They laced about half way up my shin and felt like Frankenstein shoes. Hard to walk in ....clump ....clump ....clump.... But they said "Red Wings" on them and from what I've read on-line, these are the best.

Suddenly, my years of experience in marketing were failing me. This was no place for a marketing, white collar guy. I was entering the world of the working men. Men who had tattoos back when men had tattoos, not musicians and drama majors. These were guys who were missing digits and called them "fingers" and "toes" not "digits." These were men who wore boots that weighed as much as a spare tire.

Next lesson? Learn to walk in steel toed boots and to look like you've done it all your life.

James Snider is the business development director for Accelerant Marketing Alliance, a full-service marketing start-up providing a corporate marketing department....one hour at a time
For more information on Accelerant: http://accelerantmktg.com 
For more information on James: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jamessnider

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What I learned from working in a nuclear power plant

As a consultant, sometimes you are called upon to perform duties outside your normal scope. If someone knows you are available and they need anyone who is not a complete idiot, sometimes they will call.

I had just such a call recently. Seeing as business is slow right now and the caller is a friend, I accepted the job.

In about a week, I will start a 6 week stint as a safety supervisor at a nuclear power plant. I will be leaving the great state of Texas to join a team that performs maintenance on a wide variety of power plant equipment. It will be my job to make sure they are following all the safety rules, all the time. 

I have started reading endless safety manuals so I will know things like “4) Wear Kevlar gloves when using utility knives, and scrappers.” Honestly, I did not know that there was such a thing as “Kevlar gloves.” But then, the writer of the manual did not know that the comma before “and” was not necessary, so I guess that makes us even.

I am not sure what I will learn about “marketing” from this experience, but I tend to find grist for the mill in just about every circumstance. This will be a unique experience for me, for sure. Whatever I learn, I will share with you on this blog.

Now, the most important thing for me to learn is how to say “nuclear.” Saying “nucaler” might be OK in Texas among Texans, but it will not do a lot for my credibility once I set foot on power plant property.

James Snider is the business development director for Accelerant Marketing Alliance, a full-service marketing start-up providing a corporate marketing department....one hour at a time
For more information on Accelerant: http://accelerantmktg.com 
For more information on James: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jamessnider