Two Most Valuable Voices in Business

The voices in business that reign supreme above all others and provide the most value are the voice of your customers, internal and external, and your own voice.

Regardless of strategy, goals and plans, if you are not listening to your customers, nothing else matters.

The Voice of Your Customer

Voice of the customer (VOC) is the practice of identifying the needs and demands of those that engage with your business by asking them to participate. VOC opens the opportunity for you to learn your customer’s concerns, desires and ideas. You are inviting them into a conversation by providing a platform to engage.

Whether they are buyers, influencers, partners, employees, or the community, together their voices define your brand. They are the real embodiment of your brand’s customer experience.

The “voice of the customer” is a process used to capture the requirements and feedback from the customer in order to provide best-in-class products and services. This process must be proactive and constantly innovative to capture the changing requirements of the customers over time.

Customers are the only reason for a business to exist. It’s who you serve. Your purpose for being in business. Without a transaction or trade, there is no exchange for goods and services, for profit or not. In other words, if the only person “buying” what you are selling is you, then that is not a business. It’s a hobby or a gift.

Listening to your customers, which means all your stakeholders, is fundamental to growth and innovation.

The collective expressions, from complaints to praising testimonials, define your organization. It’s the good, the bad, the passive and the unknown.

  • Do you know what your customers are saying about you?
  • How do employees feel about the place they dedicate a good percentage of their working hours each day?
  • What is top of mind for your partners and investors?
  • Do you all these constituents know what you value?
  • Is everyone empowered and encouraged to use their voices?

It Starts with You

The second most important voice in business is your own.

Communication is two way. We are learning about the silent voices, who are changing the course of business today by no longer staying silent. These voices are setting the standards for which we will operate in the future. These voices are shaping our definitions for what we will tolerate, or not. What we will accept and what we will teach others as to how we will engage and interact. Everyone is watching and listening to those that are using their voice.

Business leaders can not be silent if we expect our customers and employees to use their voice to guide, teach and share.

If you want to be heard, if you want to be respected, you need to speak up. Now. We all need to use our voice. It is our power. It provides us the ability to declare what we will allow and accept as a course of doing business and in our lives. It clarifies what we will tolerate in our communities and how we will be represented. Our voice expresses how we are to be understood and what others can expect from each of us.

As leaders in business, it is our ultimate responsibility to provide a platform, as well as the security, to utilize all voices. It is inherent in transformational and transparent cultures, which enable and empower every single person in the business to have a voice.

Leaders must say, let their voices be heard. We are listening. We will respond. We will engage. We will act. We will not ignore. All of your voices matter.

Back Up and Start Again

We have long spent years in training people to be good listeners. The practice starts early. Remember this, “Shhhh, listen and don’t interrupt!” Yes, we are told to be quiet and listen at very early ages. At home, in school and on the job. When are we taught to speak up? It often comes years after constant “shushing” and being told respect comes from not questioning others and being quiet.

We need to encourage and demand others to use their voices. It starts with every single person using their voice to encourage change and to uphold standards of accountability. Say something. Don’t be silent.

Unlearning the fears related to saying how they feel or how we are harmed requires as much practice and training in business, as does teaching people to be better listeners. Both need to be equal within the corporate culture. Leadership needs to intervene, transform, support and train others to participate in using their voice, as well as be cognitively aware of constant listening. Reinforcing this by having specific programs for listening to customers is one way companies can demonstrate their “best practices” related to voice of the customer (again, internal and external).

Voices Are Out There in Mass

The voice of the customer has been empowered by the strength of social media and our ability to share billions of pieces of content every day. Companies are seeing the voice of their internal customers publicly on display in platforms like LinkedIn, Glassdoor and Comparably. Is this how you learn about your internal customer’s concerns? Is this where prospective job candidates find out about your culture?

Our external customers are experiencing the greatest transformation in using their voice. They have individual and collective powers that can promote and destroy business reputations. They don’t even have to be a customer to have a voice. Have you seen the boycotts that come from people that don’t even use the product or participate in the service? The bandwagon is full and these voices carry great weight and influence.

The internet age birthed an expressive outlet that has since grown exponentially by every second. What happens in internet real time gives you just a glimpse of how much content is being voiced across the globe every second. Are you watching? Listening? Are these your customer’s voicing their concerns? It’s business, not personal.

The volume of voices is beyond our grasp at the scale of the internet; however, they can not be beyond our grasp within our organizations. We must put in practice voice of the customer programs and practices in order to succeed in business.

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Do you really know what your customers want and what they don’t want? Remember, it’s not about you or what you think they want.

Ask them. They’ll tell you.

10 Ways to Empower the Voice of Your Customers

  1. Call your customers. Yes, pick up the antiquated phone and call. Don’t text, don’t email, call. Engage with at least 2-3 customers a week. Ask them, how are we doing? What can we do better? Anything you would like me to know? Most CEOs do not call customers until there is red hot issue or they already fired you. That’s too late. Never be afraid to learn from the person that pays your salary – your customer.
  2. Interview buyers. Create buyer personas by interviewing prospects, buyers that use your competition and your customers. Know what they need. Ultimately the products you design and services you offer should be based on the customer needs – if you truly want to grow the bottom-line.
  3. Survey internal and external customers. Ask for feedback from your customer and employees. This is more than a employee or account review. This is a moment in time single questions for asking how they like the company or are they satisfied? Go one step further and add a couple questions for real intelligence gathering. What would they change? What will make you buy more of what we offer in the future? Use standardized feedback programs like Net Promoter Score (NPS) to set benchmarks within your organization. It’s a way to identify the voice of your raving fans and the voice of your distracted influencers. Often you’ll uncover the fastest paths to retaining customers and employees is through feedback you gather in a simple survey. People will share, if you ask.
  4. Feedback forums, innovation labs and focus groups. The best product design engineers will tell you that the most profound changes often came from these groups and forums. It’s the buyers and users. They know what they want and what they don’t want. Test groups and feedback loops give you valuable insights. It also reduces unnecessary cycles of development and money spent making something better when it really didn’t matter. The mechanisms to build-in technology to gather insights and use cases today make it easy to deploy and gather valuable information.
  5. Events and customer programs. Give the opportunity for your customers to share their ideas, best practices and “delight” by sharing advice with your other customers and prospects. This is also very valuable to employees, who can get face-to-face time with customers to learn what excites them as well as the pitfalls that distract and destroy relationships.
  6. Social listening. Utilize every platform available to actively listen to your customers. Watch for opportunities to create engagement, ask for further information. Respond and take action. It demonstrates your commitment to customer care.
  7. Everybody sells. Find a way for everyone in your company to participate in the sales process. Offer ride-along programs with top sales reps. Give team members the opportunity to listen in to customer calls and meetings. Record presentations with your customers for training. Capture comments and evaluations from demos and share these “voices” with the employees. Everyone in the company is a sales person and they should know how to represent the company by hearing the customer voice.
  8. Customer service and feedback loops. Gather input and provide recaps and training on key customer issues to the entire organization. Utilize first-hand experience and real customers to provide real accounts of the experience. Recognize those that are engaging with the customers each day, those that are doing the heavy lifting to ensure your customers are happy.
  9. Measure VOC. Define your program and assign key performance indicators that enable you to constantly know how the company is performing related to brand, customer experience, listening, feedback and service.
  10. Use data. Analyze trends and do data spot checks to ensure the voices are being heard and the information is used to guide the company forward. Start with survey data from NPS or customer satisfaction surveys, analyze retention and buyer frequency, measure engagement, track user experiences and monitor daily customer activities.

Use your voice. Learn from other voices. Empower those around you to use their voice. Show others it is safe and OK to do so. Ensure your customers, internal and external, that you will protect them when they speak up.

All voices have a right to be heard and it is right to listen to all of them. Most importantly, it is right to use your own voice. Speak up. And listen. Both will provide great rewards and opportunities to learn.

Jamie Glass, Founder and CMO of Artful Thinkers, a sales and marketing consulting company.

Jamie Glass on The Worldly Marketer Podcast

Why It Pays to Hire the Right Experts When You’re Going Global

Listen here

Favorite Quotes and Shared Insights

EXPERIENCE

TIP: Based on 20 years experience, what works best is when you are a trusted advisor and that comes from really listening, learning and understanding what a business needs and where they want to go.

“My vision is to always work with the CEO, because sitting at the table I’m able to understand what their vision and mission is and then statically advise them on the best way to accomplish that.”

MARKETING

TIP: A good marketer needs to understand all touch point strategies and how communications are being used in representing the brand experience.

“Now marketing goes much further in the process of sales engagement. And that is because there are so many touch points that occur through technology and there are so many channels to use your voice.”

TIP: Digital is changing the world and it’s a global economy so you need to be prepared to have all the conversations, all at the same time, without losing representation of who you are and what you deliver.

“Meet the customer where they expect you to meet them, and this along their journey”

LOCALIZATION

TIP: On the topic of localization, the unsung heroes are translators, project managers and internal localization team members that empower organizations to go global.

“Going global really requires working with people that are creative, strategic, have access to talent, get to know what processes work, align with your technology in the most efficient ways .”

“It is the talent and resources that makes the language services industry so amazing.”

GOING GLOBAL

TIP:  Most common pitfall for businesses is they don’t think about being global from the beginning.

“Having to go back and retrofit your products, services, content, communications and strategy is a lot harder than if you had thought it about in the beginning.  You can’t assume you are not going to be global.”

“You’ve got to rely on experience to go global.”

TIP: Think and plan your global market strategy with the same precision of how you orchestrate a great campaign.

“Everything that you do in your source language applies as well in a foreign market.”

TIP: Use in-country resources to test your products and services or the competition will eat your lunch! 

“The risks are too high. For what you shortcut in your investment to get it right by preparing and planning in advance or relying on the expertise to do it, whatever you shortcut there will shortcut your returns exponentially.”

“Taking shortcuts is the wrong way to get into the c-suite. It is the wrong way to get the attention of the CEO. Don’t make that mistake.”

INNOVATION

TIP: We are in a nano-second world! Speed and agility are critical in marketing success.  

TIP: Science, data and technology run the world! Marketers need to be aware and know how to use it to seize the opportunities that are global.

CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

“The dialogue is the same for the past 20 years, you need to meet the customer at their door. But they way in which we are doing that and the way in which we ensure our services and solutions match their journey and the way we tell our story and where we tell it is changing all the time.”

Podcast

The Worldly Marketer Podcast is the show that brings you valuable insider perspectives on what it takes to grow your business in today’s global marketplace.

Go here to access the series: https://www.verbaccino.com/the-worldly-marketer-podcast/ 

 

Analytics and Data-Driven Marketing Trends

Transformation has taken hold of corporate marketing in a big way. Analytics and data are framing the top priorities for current investments by CMOs, who are increasingly responsible for predicting profitable growth for their organizations. This shift requires advancing and centralizing the practice of data-driven marketing people, processes and technology in order to effectively achieve the defined business goals and expected outcomes.

Data has long been part of every major function within a company. However, the current intention of CEOs and stakeholders is to unite the massive amounts of acquired bits and bytes to better inform decision-making throughout the organization.

It is the expectation that marketing, sales and finance data be combined and proactively analyzed to help understand the customer journey, improve company performance, predict revenue growth and increase profitability.

In order to bring together these disparate data sets and effectively utilize collected insights to predict, businesses are heavily investing in marketing technology (MarTech). In a recent survey of marketers by Squiz, these investments are essential to better understanding customers and prospects (62%), which is a key priority and as well as a challenge for enterprise marketing teams. The survey also noted that 55% of marketers are investing in MarTech in order to take a data-driven approach to marketing and 97% of the respondents said marketing technology has enabled them to be more strategic. (Source)

Businesses expect marketing to lead the way in achieving revenue growth targets. Data-driven playbooks are critical tools used to define the journey, understand customer preferences and capitalize on trends. Key to the playbook is the interpretation and translation of data through marketing analytics to support the tactics and activities.

Marketing analytics is the practice of measuring, managing and analyzing marketing performance to maximize its effectiveness and optimize return on investment (ROI).

Analytics empower businesses to recognize patterns and set priorities. Analysis centralizes the focus on outcomes and achievement of business goals by moving beyond standalone marketing metrics and reporting, to fully realizing the value of marketing from data insights.

Success comes from applying the insights that marketers acquire through data, learning from the input and then creating actionable playbooks to manage performance.

Because of the vast amounts of data and the fact that many of these complied repositories are nested throughout the organization, marketing leaders must work with the entire corporate landscape to realize the vision of data-driven marketing and decision-making. This includes researchers, digital and financial analysts, technology and innovation team members, IT, data scientists, product developers and sales operations. Collectively, this group must work together to continually challenge assumptions, push for collective understanding and master the “math” to increase predictability and usability of business intelligence.

What should marketers measure and analyze in order to create an effective data-driven marketing playbook?

Common Data Sets Analyzed by Marketing Data-Driven Organizations

  • Customer Journey Analytics: CJA data is acquired from CRM and MarTech to identify, analyze and measure each stop in the customer journey, from prospecting through acquisition to retention. Marketing data sets come from target data, marketing activities, lead generation and segmentation. Sales data sets come from pipeline activities, conversion, satisfaction, loyalty and retention programs. Financial data provides revenue, acquisition and retention costs and profit information.
  • Mobile and Web: Data from digital systems and online properties, including CRM, call center and web analytics platforms. Data sets include search, behavioral, and demographic information gathered via SEO, ecommerce, conversions and engagement.
  • Voice of the Customer: VOC includes perception and opinion data learned via sources such as structured surveys and feedback mechanisms, as well as unstructured data from open-ended survey questions, texts, reviews, customer service emails, social media, and human interactions via phone and in person.
  • Customer and Prospect Personas: Target and customer data gathered in profiling, segmentation, lead scoring and personalization campaigns. Data sets used in persona analysis includes demographic, physchographic, transactional and behavioral.
  • Lifetime Customer Value: LCV data measures net profit attributed to the entire relationship with a customer, often valued over defined periods of time. Net profit of a customer is lifetime customer value measured against customer acquisitions costs.
  • Media Analytics: Attribution and marketing mix modeling (MMM) data is used to analyze paid media results in all channels and includes campaign and spend details.
  • Social Media Marketing: SMM data includes all acquired information from social and digital media platforms such as Facebook, Messenger, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, WeChat, Pinterest, YouTube and LinkedIn. Data is often used to measure targeting, reach and engagement.
  • Product Life Cycle: PLC data is acquired as a new product moves through a sequence of stages from introduction to growth, maturity and decline.
  • Reach Cost Quality: RCQ data, gathered at each touch point, measures the number of target buyers reached, cost per unique touch and the quality of the engagement.

In contrast to the obvious need and growing investments in data-driven marketing, it is a widely reported fact that most companies today are far from getting the “full value” of all the data available to them to help make better decisions. Most organizations are in the early or mid-stages of the shift to bring all data together in order to effectively guide and predict growth and profitability decisions. The undertaking is often very complex and expensive.

Marketing must press forward and lead the way!

Good news, a recent study by the Global Alliance of Data-Driven Marketing Associations (GDMA)Winterberry Group and MediaMath shows eight in 10 advertising and marketing professionals worldwide use data-driven techniques to maintain customer databases, measure campaign results across both individual and multiple marketing channels, and segment data for proper targeting. (Source)

Now, we must work together throughout the entire organization to ensure that driven-data marketing and analytics provide the proper insights that we can learn from and create successful outcomes, like increased growth and profitability.

Jamie Glass, CMO + President, Artful Thinkers, a sales and marketing consulting company.

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Marketing is Growth Hacking

Marketing is defined as the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising. Is that not really a definition for growing a business?

There are many applications and tactics used in marketing today to build audiences, engage customers and drive revenues.

Separation of growth and marketing does not serve any business well, small or large. Metric-driven association to the business goals must be the primary function and purpose of marketing. In the present, this often has a digital orientation whether you are defining these outcomes to market share, product sales, customer loyalty, new customers, retention, clicks or pipeline velocity. Marketing results should be measured by growth, no matter the tactic or application.

When we entered into the digital age, marketers began to alter course in search of new ways to best attract eyeballs, motivate actions and engage with consumers. In this shift, there were many in the start-up world that felt that marketing was not fluid or quick enough to make this transition. The inertia of the start-up needed immediate and innovative solutions to meet the high volume growth requirements, most of which were heavily reliant on online methods of marketing.

A scramble for “new” resources and technologies ensued and marketers were soon heavily influenced by a community of “outside” thinkers and doers that had unique skills and talents not housed within their formal marketing departments. It was the beginning of what we know have come to know today as “growth hacking,” which is sometimes referenced as the antithesis of traditional marketing.

The term “growth hacker” was first introduced by Sean Ellis in 2010. Sean Ellis  is CEO and co-founder of GrowthHackers.com, the number one online community built for growth hackers, with 1.8 million global users and over 350,000 new monthly visitors. Sean is an author, lecturer and the producer of the Growth Hackers Conference.

Yet, great marketers principled in traditions also see growth hacking as core to how they have always viewed their progressive role within an organization. Marketing is helping a business grow. To meet the demands of the business, top marketers are always in pursuit of new tools, processes, people and technologies to apply to the discipline in order to help the organization achieve its goals.

Marketing is core to any growth-oriented business that seeks to improve results on the investments that are designed to expand markets, promote products and drive sales.

Marketing should never be stagnant in thought or application, or it is useless (and probably needs a new leader). Marketing can not be motionless and standard. It must be dynamic, agile and fast-paced to keep up with the ever changing environments that impact financial results and performance every day.

Traditional marketing is good for textbooks; however, rarely is meaningful in the real-world. Marketing changes daily because of the innovations in platforms, mediums, design, research, intelligence and so much more. This constant change impacts how marketers drive awareness, engagement, influence and the customer experience. Growth hacking may be a a term that makes marketing feel youthful, hip and in tune with the digital world; however, marketing can never be successful if it stays traditional in its approach and utilization.

Growth hacking is marketing in the digital age.

Calling marketing “growth hacking” or renaming a Chief Marketing Officer to a Chief Growth Officer only puts words on activities and titles that should be at the forefront of every good marketer’s strategic playbook. The words may be necessary to focus an organization on strategic objectives and rally the troops to identify with the direction of the organization; however, relevance of growth should always be leading marketing’s responsibilities and role within an organization.

Growth should be marketing-led by which the business is representing and enacting strategies for brand, loyalty, satisfaction and the customer journey. This means that marketing strategy must deploy a variety of tactics that fall into a “growth hackers” profile and required expertise, including:

  • Web
  • Analytics
  • Affiliate Marketing
  • Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
  • Social Media
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Digital Media (Graphics and Video)
  • Content Marketing
  • Customer Feedback
  • MarTech and Automation
  • Lead Generation and Sales Operations Software
  • Mobile and App Store Optimization

Experts in each of these areas of responsibility often require unique skills and diverse capabilities. While some of the tactics may be combined into roles, marketing leadership must often rely on internal and external resources to deliver in all of these areas.

Leading a marketing organization today also requires access to experts beyond the walls of the marketing function. One suggestion is to assemble growth hacker work groups from functional areas within finance, technology, sales, product development and innovation. Some of the roles that can contribute to growth initiatives include: software developers, engineers, analysts and qualitative researchers, business intelligence analysts, AI and robotics, data specialists, as well as QA testers and reviewers.

In the 1950’s, Neil Borden defined the “Four P’s of Marketing” as product, price, place and promotion. Traditional and still applicable today; however, how we market is always changing because of innovation in products, services, delivery and experience.

Most customer journeys are influenced by digital involvement. Often, products and services are completely or have some components of digital today. Price is influenced by the research available to consumers online and most decisions are made before even engaging with the brand. The places people acquire products and services are online and expanding faster than traditional brick and mortar. Promotion is often part of or solely on channels and platforms that are online. All of this requires growth hacking resources, skills, processes, technologies and expertise.

Growth hacking is fundamental to marketing. Marketing is essential for growth, whether hacking or traditional. How we combine efforts, expand our expertise and work together will define how fast we get to our goals.

Jamie Glass, President + CMO, Artful Thinkers, a sales and marketing consulting company.

Innovate Like a Lean Startup

iStock_000009200146XSmallEnterprise organizations are taking a rigorous look at the principles used in the Lean Startup movement. They are carefully considering how they can incorporate the approach for building and launching new products faster to increase revenues and reduce costs.

Why? Speed of innovation and time-to-market can translate to millions in revenue gained or millions in lost opportunity costs for organizations of every size. One known fact for product-based businesses is that the typical time for market development can no longer take years for planning to launch. Competitive forces require organizations to be in cycles of continuous improvement and a constant state of innovation.

Some businesses acquire other businesses to gain momentum, others set up lean approaches within their product development and design centers. If enterprises want to compete with the “young and restless” entrepreneur community, they need to consider moving faster in definition, development and bringing new products to market.

The father of the lean movement is Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. The Lean Startup methodology promotes shorter product development cycles driven by experimentation and validated learning. Instead of waiting until the final product is “complete” before launch, the lean practice recommends to use iterative releases to confirm adoption and use cases for a minimum viable product.

The constant develop-release cycle provides for ongoing feedback to modify and pivot to meet buyer and user needs faster. The goal for this technique is to speed products to market, maximizing early product adoption cycles and capturing the most market opportunity. This all translates to revenue.

The risks associated to this approach are primarily related to creating products that seem to never be finished. Consumers must have a strong loyalty to stay committed to products that are always upgrading. Businesses have to evaluate the risk-rewards of being first to market with products that are viable and utilize the information gained in the customer feedback process during each release to keep customers happy.

The growing consideration of going lean for many business owners today is whether they do so through an M&A strategy or reorganization of the product development operation. “The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.” – Eric Ries

By Jamie Glass, President and CMO of Artful Thinkers, @jglass8

This article appeared in the CKS Advisors CKS Updates May 2013 Newsletter.  Visit www.cksadvisors.com for additional information.

When Do You Create a Board of Advisors

iStock_000005458028XSmallThere comes a time when assembling a group of experts to help grow your business is considered smart leadership and a business best practice. When you reach a stage in your business where you have exhausted the collective internal experience, knowledge and skill to achieve your next phase of growth — create a Board of Advisors.

Every purpose of creating a board will differ for each organization. A business owner may be faced with great opportunity for rapid growth or significant challenges from conquering the next ascent in revenue, market or product expansion. The appropriate time to consider assembling a board is when the business path forward is less clear or cluttered with obstacles that could derail you from achieving your business goals. You have reached that period in your business when their is more “unknown” and you fear what you don’t know.

A Board of Advisors is different from local peer groups, leadership councils, service providers and executive mentors. Your board is a committed team of individuals working on your business. Advisors should have congruent skills that compliment your leadership. As an example, you may find that by adding a distinguished industry expert or technical guru best serves the next phase of your business  Adding market or sales expertise can open new doors, while a finance or legal expert can provide insight to reduce risk.

Experienced executives want to help entrepreneurs, startups and leaders that seek advice to grow their business.  It validates their business “wear and tear”, while providing meaning and value to their experience. The board should round out your executive court, as these advisors are typically not available to hire as full-time employees and can be “unaffordable” for smaller businesses. They also may be those exclusive experts that will always be in a role of advising and never work for a single entity.

The reason you bring experts together as board members is to increase effectiveness and efficiency in decision-making and strategic planning. A board will perform best when there is an exchange of ideas in an organized environment, centered around a single business issue. The board format is designed to solve problems. Each board member brings a different set of experiences, viewpoints and resources. Having a board working together with you to assess challenges and discuss opportunities, gives you invaluable advise that can save you significant time and money versus the “learn as you go” approach.

Board of Advisors are not in a role of governance. They do not have fiduciary responsibility to protect shareholders or investors, though they should be very responsible in providing any guidance related to financials or spending company money. Only an elected Board of Directors for a public corporation or non-profit have governance over a company. The Board of Advisors is a non-binding group of mentors and experts that work collectively with company leadership to achieve your business goals.

Advisors should be completely aligned with your goal and mission and also be able to challenge you by providing recommendations and views that will differ from your own. You do not want a board that agrees with all your ideas or thinks as one. Why waste your time.  They should differ in expertise and have the ability to assess short-term and long-term strategies, out loud in a group discussion, without fear of reprisal.

A board is typically five to six members, excluding the CEO or business owner.  A Board of Advisors should consist of experienced and skilled individuals in varied areas where your business is lacking in comparable talent. In the early stage of a business, Board of Advisors are typically unpaid and may or may not have a long-term financial commitment through future equity.  As a business leader, be cautious of giving away ownership in your company early, this could be a note of contention with future financing.

The commitment of an advisor should be a minimum of two years.  It is valuable to set a term limit in reviewing board members, as you company is expected to grow and you need to be able to add new board members with different skills during later stages of your business.  Board members must also be committed to attend meetings.  A small business will typically meet with the entire board every 8-12 weeks.  If a board member misses more than two meetings a year, consider replacing the advisor.

Board members should not be family members, employees, contractors or service providers you pay for other functions in your business. It creates conflict of interests. Though a board of advisors are not employees, you should treat your advisors as accountable members of your C-suite. Set expectations, ask for help and use your board to help you achieve your goals.  If you simply assemble your Board and provide an update report on the business, you are wasting valuable resources and time.

Board of Advisors are trusted members of your inner circle. You can share with them confidential information and discuss highly sensitive matters that are not open for discussion with anyone else in your company. Your board should consist of credible experts that will provide insights you can not gain from any other resource. They should open doors, help you gain new customers or strategic partners and provide actionable ideas to help you achieve success. If you want to grow, create a Board of Advisors.

“You sit at the board and suddenly your heart leaps. Your hand trembles to pick up the piece and move it. But what chess teaches you is that you must sit there calmly and think about whether it’s really a good idea and whether there are other, better ideas.” – Stanley Kubrick

Jamie Glass, President and CMO at Artful Thinkers @jglass8

Investing in Co-Selling Partnerships to Grow

iStock_000022899520_ExtraSmallSmall businesses and entrepreneurs can greatly benefit by selecting co-selling partners to drive revenues. Utilizing another company’s sales and marketing resources may be a great channel to aggressively extend reach and acquire new customers.

Co-selling partnerships with businesses selling complimentary products and services to your target customer can be smart business. These partnerships can cut existing sales costs and even accelerate growth in market share. The best sales partners create a synergy between respective offerings. There should be a “natural fit” of how the products and services add value for the customer. The buyer should inherently understand why you would partner, not question as to why you did or if there is any benefit in buying from a single vendor.

Co-selling partnerships can reduce sales costs. There is a required investment in sales and marketing to grow a business. The costs of a sales team can be crippling for a new venture or small business.The overhead expenses that enable a sales person to be trained, productive, and armed with the right marketing tools, technology and product support can be onerous in the earlier stages of an organization.  Lack of initial investment often produces lack luster results and can actually cost the business even more with unexpected turnover or lengthy sales cycles. Businesses need a specific budget and defined cost of sales to properly staff, train and equip a sales organization to get results.

Time-to-market and time-to-close can be reduced through co-selling partnerships. A new sales hire ramp-up time can be 3-12 months, depending on price of goods to be sold and anticipated sales cycles. Ramp-up requires an “blind faith” investment of time and resources. A business has to invest in sales with nothing more than the anticipation and belief that something is going to be sold. It is a huge price to pay and has great risk. Utilizing a trained and experienced sales team through a co-selling partnership can help you bring revenues in while you invest in building your own sales team.

Co-selling is not free. There are costs of co-selling partnerships. A strong partnership requires investment in training and account management resources to keep top-of-mind awareness with your co-oped sales team. You also need to provide sales and marketing tools to properly equip the team to sell your goods and services. You need to be available when they have questions and to support them throughout the entire sales process.

You also need to create an incentive as to why a sales person in another organization should throw your offering into the mix. Higher commissions, faster time-to-close and value-add to the customer, are all good reasons; however, remember — sales people need to be sold too. If you extend the deal time or complicate the sales process, it will never work. Make it easy and valuable for the sales team through your co-selling partnership.

Incentives matter in co-selling. If the paired companies benefit but not the people selling, the partnership will fail. You need to set up a partner agreement for commissions and shared revenues.  A typical commission in a co-selling relationship starts at 10% of net revenue on the deal for a qualified lead pass. This type of agreement puts the burden back on you to close the deal. You are basically paying for marketing and an introduction. If the partner does all the work, including closing the deal, you may provide an incentive of 20% or more just to get that customer on your books. The structure of the agreement and commission rates should be based on your financial projections and cost of goods and associated expenses in managing the customer post-sale.

What doesn’t work? Relying on commission-only sales teams and partnerships that are by name only. There are business owners that believe they can get a motivated, committed sales person to work for free. The odds of making this type of relationship work are close to nil. The relationship between a company and it’s sales team, whether a direct hire or partner, is measured by the commitment from both sides. Small businesses may have to tier commission levels based on the ramp-up of sales or find ways to create early non-cash incentives; however, no one should be expected to go out and sell without a financial commitment. The words “you get what you pay for” should ring loudly if you are thinking about commission-only or finding people to sell for you because they like you.  Sales people that are really good at closing deals are expensive because they have a huge ROI.

Attributes of great co-selling partners to consider are the size of the partner’s sales team, market reach, relationships with your customer and available support the sales team receives in training for new products. The partner must have the means, connections and existing relationships to introduce your products to market. Co-selling means they will take an active role in selling. Again, partners by name only often produce little value.

If you choose to use co-selling partnerships, embrace the model and build support for the partnership. Show your loyalty through your commitment to make the partnership last and benefit everyone including the customer, the sales person and the partners. Create value by talking about the partnership and promoting the relationship. The results you get from this co-selling will be directly tied to the amount of time and resources invested in the partnership. You have to give to make it work and really pay off.

In reality, the only way a relationship will last is if you see your relationship as a place that you go to give, and not a place that you go to take.” – Anthony Robbins

Jamie Glass, President and CMO at Artful Thinkers @jglass8

Related to a series of posts on partnering.  Also read: Sales Referral Partners Lead to New Customers

Innovation Arizona Summit is June 11, 2013

Innovation Arizona Summit
Innovation Arizona Summit
Network with hundreds of your peers while meeting up with incubators, accelerators, funders and investors, entrepreneur program groups, education and supporting growth organizations. The Innovation Arizona Summit, brought to you by MIT Enterprise Forum Phoenix and the Arizona Commerce Authority, takes place on June 11, 2013 at the Tempe Center of the Arts. A must-go affair for all startups, business leaders and innovators! Attendees will experience an event jam-packed with resources and experts committed to helping entrepreneurs.
 
Your ticket is the biggest opportunity from the organizations committed to helping you grow your business with the best advice, tips on what has worked and hasn’t worked, along with how to avoid pitfalls are in one place! Three featured presentations are open for all attendees. Registration is $25 plus $20 for entrepreneur breakout sessions or seven special sessions for only $75.
 
Get you Ticket, RSVP Now!
  Event Schedule – details here
 
Exhibitors
 
Sponsorships available –

What is Your Business IQ?

Fresh ideas, concept wordsThe question is not related to your personal or business intelligence, it is your business Innovation Quotient (IQ).  Your business IQ is connected to how you manage change and performance improvements in all facets of your organization, from operations to product. The origin of the word innovate goes as far back as the 16th century. It is simply introducing something new or different.

There are some companies that are perceived to “own” innovation and are frequently on lists of the most innovative companies. Expected and recognized mainstream mega brand companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, Nike, Target, Coca-Cola recently topped Fast Company’s 2013 Most Innovative list, along with newer innovators like Pinterest, Sodastream, Tesla, and Yelp. They all have visible innovations and a high “product” IQ.  We come to expect they are doing something new and different all the time.  What we do not see is how these businesses innovative internally. How they get on these lists takes more than smart, cool products. We don’t know how often they change employee policies, management teams, adopt new software programs or retire practices that no longer get results – unless you are Melissa Mayer of Yahoo!

What is your business IQ?  How often are you “innovating” the 4 P’s: product, people, processes and policies?  If you were to rate how innovative your company is today, on a scale of one to 100, with 100 being the most innovative, where do you rank?  If you are never changing, you probably have a low business IQ.  If you are always changing, your business IQ should be close to 100.  The most realistic place to be, without completely disrupting or killing your business, is to aim for above 50.

If you are an innovative trailblazer with a high IQ, congratulations and press on!  It is difficult to stay on the forefront and constantly introduce “new” into a business. Trailblazers make change and as a result, often make money. They innovate, pivot and innovate again. Maverick companies with high business IQ are in a continuous cycle of innovation and change.

If your business is lacking in the innovation department, it may be time to set new company standards.  If you asked everyone on your executive team to provide you a recommendation of an old idea or way of doing something that needs to be retired, without measure of cost or risk to the business, what do you think would be on the list?  Perhaps it is time to find out.  Innovation begins by identification.  Where there is opportunity in your business to innovative, there is opportunity to improve.

Old or young, businesses need to always be monitoring their business IQ.  Innovation takes place within companies as well as in products and services.  Being an innovative company requires a constant and systematic evaluation of how the company will stay competitive and continue to grow or maintain sustainable profits.  The lack of innovation is a one-way ticket to performance doldrums.

Not all innovation is good and there are certainly small and big failures to note.  One point is certain, if your business is low on IQ, it is probably not maximizing the potential of products, people, processes or policies.  Start by asking the questions first. What needs to go? What is holding your business back?  Identify where you can improve your business IQ and then go — innovate!

If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” – Peter F. Drucker

Jamie Glass, President and CMO of Artful Thinkers

Sales Referral Partners Lead to New Customers

Coins and plant, isolated on white backgroundUsing partnerships to grow your business is smart business. Partnering drives market awareness, aligns your brand with other credible brands, opens doors to new customers and can even provide value-added products and services to increase your average sale.

There are different types of partners, which are defined by the level of engagement and the agreements each party enters into to manage the relationship.

Sales Referral Partners are the entry level of business development partnerships. This type of partnership has little accountability and responsibility for performance. The value of this strategy is often used to grow market credibility or to align with a partner that has strong relationships with your prospective customers.

Entering into a partnership for referrals is a first step to test the waters in a relationship. It allows both entities to measure the commitment, willingness and effort required in working together to develop business. A sales referral partnership gives you the ability to determine if this is simply a PR initiative or will actually grow revenues. You can also monitor the organizational support in sales and marketing required to get deals closed.

The relationship can be a one-way lead pass or a two-way referral agreement. Both parties need to determine the best opportunity to refer business by passing on leads, receiving referrals or both.

Sales Referral Partners can be “handshake” in nature if you do not plan to hold anyone accountable for the outcome. It is commonplace for business service professionals who network together to develop non-binding relationships to help open doors and extend value by making credible introductions to other service providers or their respective clients.

If you plan to use compensation as an incentive to drive referrals you need a legal agreement, signed and executed between both entities. Compensation is a way to show appreciation for the referral and is an incentive to work together. If your partner offers to pay you for referrals, you also want to make sure it is in writing.

There are two ways you can determine the referral compensation.  Referrals can be compensated at the same rate as your sales commission.  For example, you can offer a set figure between 5-10% of the net proceeds of any closed deal.  You can also set the commission rate at the percentage of your average marketing spend to acquire a new customer. No matter the rate chosen, it should be perceived by your partner as rewarding and drive the expected behavior. Make it worthwhile for someone to act as your front-line sales person and help find you new customers. If the rate is not worthy of the effort, you can expect to pay few or no commissions, as you will likely not drive the behaviors needed to get a referral.

If you do choose to enter into a binding agreement that includes compensation for referrals, you need to set rules just as you do for your own employees. Specifically outline in your agreement how payments will be made and when the partner will be paid. For example, will you pay when the sale is made or when you are paid by the new customer? Be sure you state in your referral agreements if the referral fee will be paid over the lifetime of the relationship or for only the first sale.

It is critical that you track all your sales referrals, whether you enter into a formal agreement or simply take an email of a lead pass from a trusted business partner in your network. Enter the lead into your CRM with the proper tag to identify who gave you the lead. Enter when you receive the lead and monitor the progress of the lead as it moves through your sales pipeline. Measure all your partners quarterly to see how they are helping you grow revenues. It will provide you intelligence in how to manage the relationship for maximum profitability.

If you do enter into a sales partnership where the other entity is representing you on the front-line, you need to equip your partner with the same tools and resources you provide to your own sales team. You need to give them the ability to introduce you, what you do, the problems you solve and the value proposition of your products and services. Spend time providing regular updates about your business and services to keep your partners informed and engaged.

Top of mind awareness in this type of partnership is essential to getting value from your relationship. When you provide value, you will get value in return.  A partnership requires efforts by the giver and the receiver. Be persistent in developing good partnerships, measure activities and reward the efforts of those that help grow your business.

“Try not to become a person of success, but rather to become a person of value.”
– Albert Einstein

Other types of partnerships that will be discussed in future posts include Co-Selling Partners, Channel Partners, Strategic Partners and Investment Partners.

Jamie Glass, Founder, President and CMO of Artful Thinkers

Growing Your Business by Word of Mouth

ChatIf you had to solely rely on word of mouth and referrals to grow your business, could you? Would you?

It depends on your word of mouth power, the factor from which you attribute new customer acquisition by recommendations from others. The ultimate test to measure your word of mouth power is to forecast the growth of your business through a single source — referrals. Would you miss your revenue target or exceed financial expectations?

Word of mouth (WOM) requires talkers. People who are willing to stake their reputation on telling others about you, your business and your value. Word of mouth marketing (WOMM) may be the most cost effective way for you to grow your business, if you have invested in creating an army of talkers. Talkers are promoters, followers, happy customers and raving fans.

WOM marketing and advertising is often advocated as free. This is simply not true. The outcome of word of mouth may be free from cost of sales. WOM requires a significant investment. An investment in resources that will carry your message forward. An investment of time educating others on the value of your products and services. An investment in exceeding customer, partner and employee expectations. Acquiring new customers may factually require a smaller investment than buying ads and cold calling; however, it is not investment free. You need to invest in your word of mouth strategy to make sure it really pays off.

You can invest in a WOM strategy by giving people a reason to talk and by continually asking others to talk about you and your business.

Invest in WOM by giving people the proper tools to share your message. Talkers are your most valuable source for marketing, if they can speak from first hand experience. You can buy fans. Buying fans does not create loyalty or truth telling. The best talkers are those that trust you will deliver your value. They are someone who has found your solution to be worthy of sharing and promoting to others.

Knowing what others are saying about you and your business is measured by the amount of customers acquired through word of mouth.  If no one is referred to you by WOM, that is a danger sign. People are not telling others about your value. A bigger red flag might translate to a reputation problem.  When is the last time you asked your fans, customers or employees to spread the word? Are they enthused to get the word out or hesitant to refer others to your business?

People talk about what they like, what they trust and what they value.  All of these are earned markers of success in business. You earn them by doing a great job and exceeding expectations. The markers are currency. A currency that is transferred by word of mouth referrals. Start by setting your marker to do great work and then ask people to start talking. When they start talking, you have power. You have the power to win new customers by word of mouth.

“I would rather earn 1% off a 100 people’s efforts than 100% of my own efforts.”  J. Paul Getty

Jamie Glass, Founder, President and CMO of Artful Thinkers

Give Your Best Gift

There is one gift that you can give that is far better than any other, it is the gift of you. Your time. Your ideas. Your wisdom. Your intellect. Your generosity. Your kindness. These are all unique gifts that only you can give to others. “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” ―Steve Prefontaine

We all know there is no greater reward in life than giving. Giving showcases our sense of civility and humanity married in the richness of culture and values. Giving is a choice. We are collectively living in a world of complexity, tangled by individual adversity and challenges. When we give ourself to solving problems, sharing responsiblity and accountability of the burdens, we have the opportunity to do better. We must do better. We can accept nothing less.. The gift of you, is an opportunity to do better. “The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

You have to let a sense of self go when you give the gift of you. It takes your limited time that is often occupied by so many other important to dos. It requires you to prioritize values of what really matters. The gift of you demonstrates your willingness to put all other distractions and demands for your attention behind those that are are going to receive your most precious gift – you. “Behold I do not give lectures or a little charity, when I give I give myself.” ― Walt Whitman

There are no material possessions that are within the same measure of the gift of you. You are priceless. Giving the gift of you is wrapped in love and care. “It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” ― Mother Theresa

The very best gift in business you can give is yourself. Your time has the great value. There are several ways that you can gift you. You can gift your experience, gift your connections and gift your advice to help others achieve their goals. All require you to take the time to be present in your offering and focused in crafting how to provide meaningful experience, connections and advice. “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” ― Winston Churchill

In order to fully actualize giving you, expect nothing in return. Giving you should be void of temptations to think of what’s in it for me. There is nothing to capitalize, nothing to measure. The gift of you is simply a sacrifice that has exponential returns in knowing you did something selfless for another. “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” ― Charles Dickens

During this holiday season, the gift I give to all of you is sharing this blog. It is a little bit of me. My ideas. My thoughts. My experience. My advice. I give this gift out of love and passion to help others. “Love only grows by sharing. You can only have more for yourself by giving it away to others.” ― Brian Tracy

Happy Holidays to You and Wishing You a Prosperous New Year!

Jamie Glass, CMO & President of Artful Thinkers and Managing Director of Sales & Marketing Practice at CKS Advisors.

Best Gift to Any Business is a Referral

Are you looking for the perfect gift to give your customers or clients this holiday season?  There is one gift that has far greater lasting value beyond a spoken word of thanks, a sparkly holiday card or overflowing basket of nuts and baked goods.  It is the ultimate gift — the gift of a referral.

When you tell a client or company that you believe in what they offer, so much so you are willing to tell others, you are bestowing a very special tribute. Beyond the confirmation, providing an unsolicited referral requires thought and work. It is a bit like the effort of making a homemade holiday gift versus buying all your gifts online. You have to think carefully about the need and fit between the referral and referee. You are attaching the value of your name as an endorsement to the product or service.  You will forever be the link between the buyer and seller. Your gift will often be appreciated more because of the effort you put into the “making” of the gift.

Another reason for giving a referral as your holiday gift this year is the financial value. Customer referrals are instrumental for business growth.  In fact, the value of a referral can even be more than a single purchase, especially if the client offerings are complex or dependent on developing long-term relationships with valuable prospects. Your gift can shave months off of the sales cycle.  A referral can reduce the cost of sales and customer acquisition costs. You could be gifting a customer and potentially a profitable customer with significant real lifetime customer value (LCV).

Your word matters and your actions speak louder than your words.  Everyone is grateful for a ringing testimonial.  It serves great purpose to have your endorsement out into the marketplace to attract buyers for your clients and show your support.  The actual gift of a referral is going beyond championing your like and approval.  It is an affirmation that you believe both sides of the transaction will benefit. You are providing a seal of approval for an engagement between the buyer and the seller.

Yes, we all want customer recommendations on LinkedIn, Yelp and on our Facebook and Google+ pages. It is good business practice to endorse your customers and clients when they buy your services.  This will encourage them to do the same for your business.  Word of mouth and online reviews are proven to work.  Market studies show buying decisions are impacted by referrals, as noted in HubSpot’s example of the impact of social media referrals: 71% More Likely to Purchase Based on Social Media Referrals [Infographic]. These endorsements are reviews of our work. They are critical to marketing today.

Knowing the value of a review and recommendation, the referral puts financial value to your words.  As you put together your shopping list this holiday season, think about the best gift for your customers.  A gift that only you can provide by making a meaningful connection.  A word of gratitude followed by an invitation to do well.  A contact that can lead to revenue. Give the ultimate gift to those that pay you. Give back by giving them a customer!

The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

By Jamie Glass, CMO & President of Artful Thinkers and Managing Director of Sales & Marketing Practice at CKS Advisors.

Prepare for a Happy Business New Year

There are only a few weeks left that will define how your business performed this year. Are you happy with the anticipated results?  If the answer is yes, are you prepared to deliver the same performance next year or go to the next level?  If the answer is no, are you prepared to deal with the obstacles and challenges that prevented you from achieving your goals this year?

There may be little time to change the results of 2012. There is plenty of time to prepare for changes in 2013, if you start now.  Pivoting from your current trajectory requires strong leadership and preparing a detailed plan to execute starting the first day of the new year.

Reviewing the past several months, is your business foundation strong enough to build the next phase of your expansion?  Your foundation needs to be durable, providing the necessary support to accelerate current business practices that will generate more revenues and improve overall performance.  A business that is built from repeatable practices for product development, sales, operations, marketing and service, is a business that is ready for sustainable growth.

In your evaluation of the past year, if you are not convinced your business is running at maximum capacity or operating efficiently, it is well advised to spend the final weeks of the year to identify the primary obstacles and demands your business require to get on track for better performance in the coming year.  In other words, now is the time to invest in your business to get it on track for growth.  Do you need to invest in people, products or infrastructure?  What will it require in time and finances to build a strong foundation for future growth?

One of the biggest challenges for small business owners is to look outside the day-to-day operations to see the threats and opportunities for growth.  If you do not have an advisor, seek help from peers who can give you an objective assessment.  You want to have a comprehensive plan with orientation toward your business goals and tactics that can be executed upon by your committed team members at the start of the year.  Your plan needs to be opportunistic and realistic.

Now is the time to plan for the coming year.  How much do you need to invest?  Will you need to pivot from plans that have not provided expected results in the prior months?  Your team is waiting for your definitive plan of action.  They want to know where they are headed so they can meet your expectations.  Take the steps necessary to get ready for the best possible outcomes in the coming new year.  The action you take today, will impact where you end up next year.

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” ― Yogi Berra

By Jamie Glass, CMO & President of Artful Thinkers and Managing Director of Sales & Marketing Practice at CKS Advisors.

Return on Marketing Requires an Investment

One of the most important decisions a business owner or CEO will make is establishing a budget for marketing. Like talent, product and infrastructure, marketing must be viewed as a necessity in business.  Marketing expenditures are essential investments for growth.

An average SMB (small-to-medium size business) will typically set a marketing budget at 4% to 6% of sales revenues.  There are several factors that can impact this budget.  As an example, a well-funded startup may invest 20% of revenues for aggressive consumer acquisition programs and advertising.  Notice, the “well-funded” qualifier.  Likewise, there is always difficulty in setting a budget for a pre-revenue company. Entrepreneurs will often spend most of their investments in product and then struggle to bring in sales. Startup costs must include marketing.  For every dollar invested in product, people and infrastructure, an equal dollar should be set aside for investment in sales and marketing.

Here are three simplified phases for marketing investment planning:

1.  Brand Awareness:  Your marketing investment should start with focus in reach and awareness including brand identity, a website, company advertising and direct and social marketing.

2.  Engagement: The second phase invests in additional marketing programs that support your sales efforts including lead generation, publicity, web marketing (SEO and SEM), market validation, events, advertising, presentations and customer case studies.

3.  Nurture:  Finally, maximize your marketing investments with customer communications, CRM services, loyalty initiatives and nurturing programs to maintain the valuable potential and existing customer relationships.  Once you have them engaged, use your marketing spend wisely to develop and grow your relationship.

After your marketing budget is defined, you will want to establish how you will measure the success of your investment.  ROMI is the acronym for Return on Marketing Investment.  The calculation is total revenue divided by marketing spend.  ROMI = Revenue ($) / Marketing Spend ($).

Some marketing activities such as branding, advertising, PR and social media are harder to track impact and influence. As a rule of thumb, the simple ROMI equation gives you a thumbnail sketch of your return on your marketing investment.  ROMI is a good KPI (key performance indicator) for leaders to use in the business dashboard.

If you are a startup or pre-revenue, the marketing spend will be set as your budget for purposes of forecasting. Some may argue that there should be other factors added or subtracted, such as attributable revenues; however, most businesses have a difficult time tracking every dollar spent on activities such as advertising. Start with the broadest “buckets” and as you increase your marketing reporting and tracking sophistication, you can scrutinize spending with finer analysis.

Marketing is an investment.  Success in ROMI requires budgeting, reporting and analysis in order to fully actualize the benefits.

In lean times, business owners have a tendency to cut marketing spend. Lost time and lack of investment, even during challenging periods, impacts long-term growth. The result may not be felt right away. It is an illusion. Prolonged periods of reduced marketing spend can dramatically reduce sales opportunities. The fewer dollars you put into a marketing budget the greater the exponential impact on future revenues.

Similar to an investment savings account, the more you put into your “growth” marketing account, the higher potential return on your investment. The more dollars spent on high risk marketing activities, the greater risk to returns. Any sound investment advisor, marketing or financial, will counsel a business owner and CEO to invest based on the organization’s risk tolerance.  Marketing investments should be treated like any financial investment.  Know your risk tolerance, invest accordingly.  If the business has low tolerance for risk, eliminate marketing spend in expensive tactics that are difficult to measure. Always diversify your investment to mitigate risk.

In order to qualify for a return, it requires an investment.  Failing to set aside funds to market is failing to invest in business sustainability.  Expectations of sales without an adequate marketing budget is a business built on luck. Though we would all like to be lucky, if you plan to sell something, invest in marketing to create the sale.

I have a problem with too much money. I can’t reinvest it fast enough, and because I reinvest it, more money comes in. Yes, the rich do get richer.” -Robert Kiyosaki

By Jamie Glass, CMO & President of Artful Thinkers and Managing Director of Sales & Marketing Practice at CKS Advisors.

Entrepreneurial Spirit or Stress

High energy and optimism drive entrepreneurs to overcome the daily challenges of starting and running a business.  It is drawn from the spirit of achievement.  A belief in winning.  The achiever reflects on the vision supplanted in the back of their mind that reminds them they can do it.  Entrepreneurial spirit motivates. Unfortunately, entrepreneurial stress can be harmful.

Often times I see business owners who fight gallantly and passionately to get their businesses off the ground. Overcoming every obstacle with stamina and vigor.  Then the really hard work begins, as if the launch wasn’t difficult enough.  Selling. Operating. Scaling. Funding. HR, PR and avoiding the ER.

Days begin at 5AM and end around midnight. Sleep is sacrificed in place of getting more done.  Family and friends watch on the sidelines as the entrepreneur climbs to the top.  They are the cheerleaders, sounding boards and allies.  They see the competitiveness to win, so they encourage you more.  You’ve got spirit! You can do it, yes you can!

Our colleagues and advisors rarely say stop or slow down.  Why?  They don’t want to crush the dream.  They want to keep the spirit alive.  Businesses are built with emotions of positive thinking, ambition and heart thumping enthusiasm. They are also built with blood, sweat and tears.  We chant faster, better, more.  We ignore slower, take a breath, and reminders to enjoy the journey.  We convince ourselves we work better under pressure and stress.

As we are conditioned more than ever to reach for the stars, who is telling you to chill out?  It seems counter intuitive to being an entrepreneur.  Is it?  Can you get more accomplished when you are relaxed and well rested?  There are countless studies that prove stress is bad for your health.  It increases heart disease, inflammation, chances of having a stroke, weight gain, and even increases odds of catching a cold.  Relaxation studies show we can counterbalance many of the health risks.  Yet, out of fear of failing, the entrepreneur presses on and tries to do more.

I am reminded of a wise mentor who once said, do you want your epitaph to read “I Worked the Hardest”. Know anyone that has health issues from living stress-free or being well rested and relaxed?  Know anyone with health issues from living in the hyper stress mode, working 18 hour days, not sleeping, and sacrificing all “me” time?

Take this advice from a self-subscribed workaholic, it may be time to relax!  Here are a few ideas on how to get back to the spirit and reduce the entrepreneurial stress.

1.  Remind yourself of the WHY.  Why are you building a business?  Why are you working so hard? Why are you driving yourself and probably your family crazy?  Write down your why and review it daily. If it is for your retirement, for your security, for your family or for your employees, they will all tell you they would rather have a bit more of the relaxed you than a bit more stress.

2.  Turn off the electronics.  We are more wired and connected today.  Checking emails first thing in the morning can create stress before you even get started.  Smartphones, laptops, computers, TVs, off!  Set a schedule for when you will be connected and give yourself the freedom to be off the grid.

3.  Say hello!  Reach out to past colleagues and mentors.  Get together in real time, face to face.  Perhaps they are in the same predicament of being overloaded and overworked and are looking for someone to help give them a reprieve.

4.  Read any good books lately?  No one can argue that reading is good for the mind and soul.  Take 20 minutes a day to refresh your mind.  Give yourself time to escape, explore and grow.

5.  Prioritize.  Do you have a list of priorities?  Take your list and categorize the A list, all which have to be done by a committed deadline.  Next is your B list, those items that are important but are less urgent.  Finally, your C list that captures those tasks that would be nice when completed; however, do not endanger your well-being or put the business at risk.

6.  Escape.  If your business can not survive without you for a weekend, a week or even two, you do not have a sustainable business.  How would an investor perceive your business if it can not operate without you.  In other words, the business is you. Do not believe you are helping your customers, your investors or employees by being the one that makes it all run.  It is bad for business and bad for you.  No one can sustain the pressure of being the sole enterprise.  Delegate and escape.  Force the business to run without you.

If you get to the end of the road and the sign blazes with bright lights that you made it, congratulations.  You did it.  Now, look back and ask was it worth it? Did you enjoy the journey?  If you are still on that journey, stop and breathe.  Relish in the spirit of being an entrepreneur.  Enjoy the growth in your business and your personal experience. Don’t miss out on life to get to the end.

There is no recovery from lost time or relationships.  Make sure it is really the entrepreneurial spirit that is motivating you, not the stress controlling you. Live Long. Be Happy. And Prosper.

Be Happy and Achieve More in Your Business

In a recent presentation by best selling author and NCAA Division I tennis champion, Roger Crawford, he asked the audience of business owners and executives, “Are you listening to your own head trash?” He explained that anxiety is focused on negative outcomes and it eliminates the possibilities.  Do you start your day thinking of the angst or promise of your business?

Several years ago, I was managing a small inside sales team for an entrepreneur with big dreams.  We were in the midst of creating the world’s largest, biggest, best company, EVER. We had a vision, a defined mission and we believed all was possible.

I hired a small group of spirited, eager professionals that were responsible for driving the majority of the company revenue.  Failure was not optional.  Every work day, they had to pick up the phone and convince businesses they needed our offering.  In fact, the expectation was they had to sell 5-10 businesses a day.  Many days were filled with rejection and disappointment. Despite the constant “no”, they persisted.  Dial more, ask again, always be closing, fax another brochure were our mantras.  The result, we took a small company and nearly doubled in size every year for five years.

Looking back, there is no doubt that persistence paid off.  We all knew that if we made enough calls, heard enough no’s, we would get to the yes.  Four people dialing for dollars soon turned to a couple dozen sales people and eventually two floors of people making outbound calls.  We had the formula.  We had a predictable model that scaled. Open a territory, launch a new product, buy more leads, add more sales people, increase price, and the business doubles again.  It was simple math. No anxiety, just possibilities. Followed by success.

There was only one real threat to our growing business — mindset.  We needed to hire believers.  As a business, we had the tools, the resources and the product. We needed people that believed in “yes”, despite all the “no” they might hear.  Our culture would not tolerate negativity. Our success was built on a foundation of positive attitudes. We could train and manage aptitude. Attitude was the difference between making our number or not.  Negativity was eradicated quickly to draw in more positive thinkers.  Only winners need apply.

Do you believe in your possibilities? Do you inspire winning? Perhaps the real inhibitor from achieving success in your business is mindset.  Happiness is proven to contribute to the top and bottom line.  Regardless the perceived “insurmountable” roadblocks of any small business, belief and persistence are your best allies as an organization.  Positiveness rolls down hill.  It is your primary responsibility as a leader to project happiness and the “can do” attitude.  Prospects respond to cheerful problem solvers.  Vendors like doing business with people that make them feel good.  Employees are more productive in happy workplaces.  Investors want to believe, in you!

In a 2012 released study, “Happiness as a motivator: positive affect predicts primary control striving for career and educational goals,” researchers Claudia M HaaseMichael J PoulinJutta Heckhausen noted in the report abstract, “…when individuals experience positive affect, they become more motivated to invest time and effort, and overcome obstacles when pursuing their goals, in part because they believe they have more control over attaining their goals.

How do you set up your day to experience a positive affect?  Do you have a happiness ritual that puts you in the frame of mind to win?  How do you encourage happiness and inspire your employees?  In the startup phase of the company mentioned above, I would begin by blasting a song on the boombox in our little office.  My favorite play, “Here’s a little song I wrote, you might want to sing it note for note, don’t worry, be happy  In every life we have some trouble, when you worry you make it double, don’t worry, be happy.” -Bobby McFerrin

When I cranked up the volume each morning, I might see a little sneer. We started at 7AM. In the end, it was this song and our collective attitude that launched many successful careers.  We mastered our own happiness.  We mastered our destiny. We mastered hearing no and converted it to a yes. Yes to success.

As a business owner, you will face rejection by investors, vendors, partners, and customers.  Prepare yourself and set your vision on the possibilities.  Remove the head trash. If you read, listen or surround yourself with negative information, it probably will not encourage you to go out and do more. Negativity creates anxiety. Turn it off. Walk away. Choose to believe your hype, not others.

How can you inspire others to take your business to the next level?  Focus on what you and your team can achieve.  Set goals. Share the vision. Dream big. No matter how many no’s you get, believe in yes!  And of course, Don’t Worry. Be Happy!

Inspired by the motivational Roger Crawford, the Delivering Happiness movement and all those believers at Mastering Computers.

By Jamie Glass, CMO & President of Artful Thinkers and Managing Director of Sales & Marketing Practice at CKS Advisors.

Capitalize on the Dog Days of Summer

There is a constant drum beat in business circles that summers are difficult for getting anything done. There are a variety of excuses that justify this belief, including, “everyone is on vacation“, “people don’t work when kids are out of school“, “buyers are not engaged“, and of course “decision makers are unreachable“.

The hard reality is these excuses are self-fulling prophecies.  We are more wired, more connected, more engaged today.  Business is not done during the hottest months of the year because we assume we will get a no before we ask for the yes.

The facts prove people are working all summer.  Monthly average work week data shows that we work the same amount in the summer as we do all year round.  Decision makers average 49 hours per week.  We are more productive than ever.  So, why are you not capitalizing on the hottest months of the year?

The Dog Days of Summer are the best time of the year to build up prospects, qualify leads, refresh your marketing strategies and compete for mind share.  While everyone else falls into the excuse trap, you have an opportunity to make noise and get noticed.

Laying back until September to heat it up your marketing and selling efforts only pushes you into the most distracting time of the year.  Right after Labor Day, decision makers are budgeting for 2013 and events are abundant.  Daily sales calls peak and we are all flooded with competitors emails and advertisements trying to capture top of mind awareness.  Simply, your odds are much better to get noticed during the summer months.

Here are some suggestions on how to capitalize on the final dog days of summer:

1.  Reach out to current customers.  Estimates are that it is 7x less expensive to get business from a current customer than a new customer.  Update your current customers on your latest business activities and see if they are ready to buy more.

2.  Prospect for opportunities.  Run reports from your contact database to see who has not been reached in the past six months.  Put them on your priority contact list and create a campaign to heat up some buying interest.  Activity creates action.

3.  Build sales plans for key accounts.  Spend time to craft detailed sales plans for your top prospects.  Identify decision makers, buying cycles, budgets and key influencers at your top target companies.  Read up on their latest news and research their business to identify critical needs.  Use your sales plan to carefully craft the value proposition for doing business with you and then set the appointment to make the pitch.

4.  Promote, promote, promote.  As others hold back until after Labor Day, you have the opportunity to use public relations and social media campaigns to gain attention.  Take advantage of the slower news cycles and go for the headline.  Do whatever you can to get the attention of those seeking your products and services.

5.  Summer close out sales. There is a very strategic reason why Christmas in July sales dominate the dog days of summers.  Retail outlets and online storefronts are looking to clear out inventories.  The other reason is June, July and August sales are the time people will typically start shopping for school and holidays.  Consumers expect a deal.

6.  Refresh your sales and marketing strategies.  Review your strategic plans. What has worked, what is not working and what market opportunities exist for the business in the next 18 months. Tactics follow strategy.  If you are only doing the work and not evaluating the impact on your strategy, you could be heading in the wrong direction.

7.  Pivot now.  Review your key performance indicators and adjust if you are are going to miss your mark.  Making a change now can benefit you in the last quarter of the year.  Don’t wait, start executing your changes and new strategies to achieve your business goals this year.

It is time to heat it up!  You have fewer people competing for attention and business right now.  Take advantage of it.  People receive fewer emails, fewer calls, so use this as an opportunity to make a direct connection today and set the wheels in motion to capitalize this year.

Jamie Glass, Outsourced CMO and President of Artful Thinkers, a strategic sales and marketing consulting company and Sales & Marketing Services Managing Director at CKS Advisors

Questions Sales Candidates Ask that Should Stop the Interview

There are certain questions that should raise a red flag when you are interviewing sales candidates.  You are hiring a person who will be responsible for driving your business forward.

The sales person you offer the job is representing your brand, your company values and creates your business first impression.  This person is accountable for increasing revenues.  Know for certain, they will have a bottom-line impact on your business.  Positive or negative, the interview process is critical in making the best determination of the outcome.

There are questions and statements sales candidates make that are telltale of their priorities.  When you hear them, stop the interview, thank them for their time and move onto finding a better qualified candidate.  Your time is valuable and you need to find the best person for the job.

One red flag or alarming question is enough, no matter how many other green flag answers you were given during the interview process.  Avoid the energy of imaging “what if” or talking yourself into dismissing what you know was a clear indicator this candidate is not worthy of the job.  Don’t compromise!  Your business can’t afford a bad hire.

The biggest red flag is not having any questions prepared.  Ask everyone you interview, “What questions do you have for me?”  If the sales candidate responds that they do not have any questions, stop!  Any novice interviewee will have at least one or two questions prepared for any job interview.  This response tells you they have no interest in the job you are offering.  It also indicates they didn’t do any homework before the interview. Next.

Here are more red flag questions:

1.  “What opportunities are there for promotion?” We all love ambitious people.  The problem is that you are not hiring for a future promotion.  You need a person to do the job you have open right now.  This question may be a red flag that your candidate is more focused on telling others what to do, not doing the job themselves.  They may feel over-qualified.  They absolutely are telling you they are not interested in the current job opening.

2.  “How do I get leads?”  This is an indicator that the person may not like cold calling.  It is hard work.  There are some sales people that only perform well with nurtured, warm leads.  Your sales hire should be equally good at cold calling, as growing business with existing customers or well qualified leads.  No one really wants to take a job “dialing for dollars”; however, you have to hire someone that will do whatever it takes to find customers, including making a lot of cold calls.

3.  “What is my salary?” People who ask this question want security.  Sales is risky business, for the business owner and the new hire.  A green flag question from a qualified, competent sales candidate would be, “What is my quota and commission rate?”.  They might even ask you if there are caps on earnings and incentives for exceeding quota — even better.  When a person indicates they are hungry to earn more than what you project at 100% of their sales goals, that is a very good sign this person is used to winning.  A person that is asking about salary wants to know if they can live on the base pay.  Not good.

4.  “What are the hours and the vacation policy?” Sales is a do whatever it takes job.  If a person is worried about the hours they are working each day and when they get their first paid day off, they aren’t thinking about how much money they will make selling for you.  A green flag would be a question about how soon they can get into the office each morning.

5.  “Where will I be sitting?” Sales people should be able to perform anywhere they are located.  Whether they are in an office, cubicle, table or at home, good sales people will sit where they have access to a phone and computer.  This is a person that is not attentive to the most important qualifications needed for this position and they are wasting your time.

6.  “What qualifications are you looking for?” This is a red flag that the person did not prepare for the interview.  Researching the job and the company should provide indicators of what is important in this job. This is a sign the candidate may be looking for any job, no matter what you have to offer.  You need a qualified candidate that fills the job you have open now.  This question is also an indication that the sales candidate is not ready to make an assumptive close.  The assumption should be that they are qualified for the job and they do not need to be interviewing you for background information.

Making a hiring decision about a sales candidate is difficult.  You need to trust this person will take on the responsibility you give them to grow your business.  They must be accountable for delivering results.  They must be eager to learn and willing to do whatever it takes to win.  Most importantly, they need to be able to ask for the close and that means they need to ask you for the job!

Jamie Glass, Outsourced CMO and President of Artful Thinkers, a strategic sales and marketing consulting company and Sales & Marketing Services Managing Director at CKS Advisors

Arizona Capital and Business Growth Resources

Along with Artful Thinkers, there are many great organizations in Arizona that support innovators, startups, entrepreneurs within the established business community from early stage to exit.

This is an easy-to-use reference of various groups, associations and service providers in Arizona that help businesses with financing, strategy, venture development, M&A, growth and mentoring services and business networking.

Accelerators and Growth Advisors

Investment Bankers (FINRA Registered)

Angel Investor Groups

Venture Capital Sources and Funds

Collaborative and Shared Work Space

Associations and Support

Pitch Contests & Competitions for Capital

Chambers of Commerce

Additional Resources:
This list was first published in 2012.  If you know of an organization that fits into the categories above, you can add the reference in a comment or email [email protected]com.

This list is maintained by Jamie Glass, CMO + President of Artful Thinkers.

Best Networkers Go Where Others Won’t Go

Yesterday I met with a successful executive coach who is starting to explore opportunities of expanding her business. She was sent to me by a trusted colleague and notable networking expert.  The typical goal of these meetings are to learn about our respective businesses and then make introductions or provide advice on how to reach new clients.  It’s the life of an independent business owner and consultant.

One of the questions I always ask people looking to develop more business is “who owns your customer?”. Often there is pause. Yes, I want to know who owns the relationship with your customer, not who is your customer. The reason I ask this question is to identify the strongest influencers of those potential new customers.  In my experience, it is the shortest path to multiple buyers.

An influencer provides reach and accelerates your ability to grow market share.  Research suggests that we “buy” when we are influenced by someone we trust.  In fact, ninety percent of consumers surveyed in a 2009 Nielsen Survey said they trust recommendations from people they know.

This is not only applicable in retail situations or online recommendations, but also in business services as well. The business community often gives their business to those that come through their trusted network of peers or with whom they have a past relationship. Why? It eliminates the vetting and testing. In the old fashioned sales vernacular, it saves time and money.

Here are a few recommended steps to reaching your influencer:

1.  Identify your influencer, ask yourself who “owns” your customer.

2.  Research your influencer.  Where do they meet?  Who is in their network?  Who are their customers?  What events do they attend?  What association and industry groups do they belong to?

3.  Start following. Not literally stalking of course, but follow companies and connections in LinkedIn, through social media channels like Twitter, Facebook Fan Pages and Google+.  What are they talking about?

4.  Go to events where they gather and start building your circle of influence.

The biggest mistake I see others make in networking to find business is they go to where their friends and competitors go. For example, I am probably less likely to get business at another marketing event, as opposed to hanging out at a physicians conference or speaking at a non-profit event about advisory boards. My competitors do not go to these events, or at least very few do. I get more time to interact.  I can learn more about their needs in a particular industry or market vertical.  More importantly, I can start to build a network of influencers face-to-face.

How do I get those in the room that have nothing in common with me enter into a trusted relationship? I start by listening.  I then offer to make introductions to my trusted network, when there is a good match. I share my knowledge to see where we have similar business interests, like expanding markets, growing revenues.  Sometimes I offer to participate in events as a speaker on mutually defined topics of interest. Finally, I look for ways I can help them achieve their business goals and give them a “sample” of what I have to offer at no charge.

The saying, nothing ventured nothing gained seems to work well in the world of networking for business.  Sole proprietors and consultants have little time to work on their business, as they are the business.  You need to be your own best PR agent and maximize your limited selling time effectively. If you are competing for air time in a room of people that look and talk just like you, that is an educational or skill expanding event. Learn about your craft and further your expertise.  Don’t expect to get customers at these events.

When you want to network for business, go where you expect to see the least amount of your competition. The fewer people that are “talking just like you” that are in the room, the better chance you have to find business. You also create more awareness about your services because you are not a peer. You have more “meme” time. That will drive curiosity, and that opens a door to “sell yourself”.

Venture Out and Be DifferentNetworking is a skill.  Before you say no or turn away from the idea of going to a meeting or speaking at an event of complete strangers, realize that this is where business starts.  Venture out.  Be different. Go where others won’t go.