Improved Marketing & Sales

Improving marketing is to find out what people want, why they want it and how much they’ll spend. Improved sales is making more sales and converting an inquiry or lead into a contract or shipment.

Business Lessons Learned from the 2014 NCAA Tournament So Far

2014 NCAA TournamentEven when a team has over 34 consecutive wins, some jerks will question the legitimacy. Wichita State. Their game against Kentucky was as exciting and well played as any NCAA Tournament game I have ever seen.

You wouldn’t expect an organization to be motivated and succeed if its CEO keeps telling the media that his team really isn’t that good. It’s time for Jimmy Boeheim of Syracuse to retire. He has forgotten that one of his responsibilities is to build team morale, energy, and their drive to win.

Industry ranking doesn’t predetermine success. In the first round of this year’s NCAA Tournament, a team that had been ranked # 14 in its bracket (Mercer) beat the better known # 3 ranked team (Duke). And three of the four # 12 ranked teams (Stephen F. Austin, Harvard and North Dakota State) won against 5th ranked opponents.

Just because an organization was top ranked the last time around, doesn’t mean that they will continue to be #1…or even “play” that well the next time around. Louisville finally won against St. Louis in the second round, but it sure was a low scoring, uninspiring game.

Team chemistry, mutual respect and experience matters. I think that fact that the seniors had played together at MERCER for 4 years helped them beat DUKE.

It is not your imagination. Sometimes a situation is set up for one organization to succeed or for another to fail. Ask any informed fan if Wichita State had a tougher bracket than Florida.

When Your Expertise Feels OBVIOUS, the Risk of Condescension Increases

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Reflecting on year end strategy sessions, I recall reminding several clients that the base of your competitive advantage comes in the form of capabilities that your customers do not have but do need in order to handle something that is important to your customers.

Because our clients have long been accomplished accountants, electrical wholesalers, architects, programmers, facility managers, association executives etc. several somehow now take their expertise for granted.  So many tasks come easy to them.  The thing is, just because a task seems easy to you doesn’t mean that it is easy for everyone else; and certainly doesn’t mean that it is not important or valuable.

When there isn’t an appreciation of the capabilities of one’s own business, cues are missed during strategy formulation.

Maybe your competitive advantage is your ability to both train and learn from new employees.  Could your competitive advantage be the speed, consistency, accuracy and ease that you deliver?  Or, could your competitive advantage be that your team doesn’t make customers feel stupid?

We probably all know CPA firms that file extensions more than others, don’t explain their logic, or talk down to customers. Having CPAs on staff who can explain Dodd Frank and its implications to customers in a way that doesn’t make customers feel stupid is a stronger competitive position for a CPA firm than having one of the authors of Dodd Frank legislation on staff.  Condescension is not a great choice for competitive advantage.

One way to reduce the risk of condescending attitudes is to help your employees gain appreciation for what your customers know how to do that you and your team don’t know how to do…and vice versa. Mutual appreciation of your customers’ and your capabilities pays off.

 

Aldonna R. Ambler, CMC, CSP has earned the right to be called THE GROWTH STRATEGIST®. She has won over 2 dozen national and statewide “entrepreneur of the year” awards for the resilient growth of her international businesses across 4 recessions.  Her midsized BtoB clients get on…and then stay on…the published lists of the fastest growing privately held companies. She owns and operates a suite of companies that help privately held midsized companies achieving accelerated growth with sustained profitability® through opportunity & resource analysis, 4 approaches to strategic planning, executive advisory services, growth financing, and targeted search.  2013 is Ambler’s 9th year hosting a weekly peer-to-peer-to-peer syndicated on line talk show that features interviews with CEOs/Presidents of midsized companies (typically between $20 and 200 Mil/yr.) sharing success tips about the growth strategy-of-the-week. An archive of over 300 interviews is available at www.GrowthStrategistShow.com. She can be reached toll free at 1-888-Aldonna or at Aldonna@AMBLER.com.   

Nominate Your Customers for Awards

A company’s marketing can certainly benefit from awards.  Organizations that are on the lists of “Best Places to Work” save money on recruitment.  The effectiveness of a public relations (PR) firm is underscored by PRSA “Pepper Pot” awards. Business owners can convey their recovery from a previous downturn by appearing on the various lists of “Fastest Growing Companies.” Marketing Directors usually figure out which awards are worth the time and effort.  The focus is on getting awards that help reinforce your brand and the benefits of doing business with your company. If your brand has anything to do with focusing on your customers, it pays to nominate your customers for relevant awards. 

 One of our clients is Princeton Legal Search Group, LLC.  Recently, we were delighted to nominate Mary Clare Garber for an “Emerging Leader” award.  She loves to network and enjoys making so many other people look good.  It’s been a no brainer to nominate one of my mentors, Joan Verplanck, for various community service and leadership awards. We nominated Anne Klein of AKCG for inclusion in the Philadelphia Business Journal’s list of “Women of Distinction.”  In my opinion, she should have been included on that list YEARS ago, so we must not have done our part strong enough before…but we are working on that.  Mike Lackland certainly deserved our nomination of Storage Assets for “NJ – Family Business of the Year.” Amenta Emma Architects won an award for an advertising campaign which helped to promote their incredible talent as designers and project managers. Granite City Electric won a “Most Improved” award within an electrical wholesale industry group. We are currently looking for awards related to Association Headquarters International and BLINK Reaction, Inc.

It pays to learn where a client attended college because “Alumnus of the Year” awards mean a great deal to most people. My father is an “Alumnus of the Year of the Hershey School for Fatherless Children.”  I am fairly certain that award still means more to him than even being named “Teacher of the Year” at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).

Which of your customers deserve recognition for innovation? Creativity? Customer service? Industry leadership? Community service? Job creation? 

How My Various Roles Provide Important Perspective

As a growth strategist/executive advisor, I have noticed that:

despite high unemployment, the primary barrier to growth for midsized companies is not sales or financing…it’s difficulty attracting bright employees who are continuous learners.  The executives are quick to say that their companies are ready to train new employees to “do things [their] way.” But job applicants show up late or ask about the number of vacation days during early stage interviews. Our clients ALL have unfilled job vacancies.  Several clients are looking for sales professionals. So…how many high-potential people are settling for their current jobs despite feeling uninspired?

As the host of a syndicated peer to peer talk show, I have noticed that:

most of the Presidents of INC 500 listed companies have a laser focus on customer driven innovation. Yes, they spend time attracting/retaining top talent and financing growth; but those efforts are approached in ways that enable the development and delivery of innovative products/services that customers need and want.

These Presidents also utilize dashboards, balanced scorecards, or other similar tools to keep a watchful eye on important performance ratios. And they expect department heads to hit goals, initiate improvements, and prevent slippage.  It’s not OK for a key ratio to be missed without a corrective action plan.

They stay informed about things like the value of the dollar, but none of the guests from INC 500 companies whine about the economy.   

As a growth strategy speaker at business conferences, I have noticed that:

owners of mid-sized businesses are initially skeptical when I pose the concept of tripling gross revenue while only doubling operating costs.  Uncertainty has sucked many business owners down into incremental thinking and survival mode.  In many ways, those companies no longer have Presidents or CEOs. They have regressed to duplication of effort and micro management.  Too many department heads are no longer expected to optimize productivity and customer satisfaction…the President is.

But it doesn’t take long for Presidents/CEOs to recognize that their job is the big picture, growth strategy, and long term resilient success.  No excuses.  As business leaders, if we can’t even imagine several options that could triple our gross revenue, how on earth could we actually do it?

As a growth financing intermediary, I have noticed that:

business owners are still complaining about the process. Although interest rates, ROI, and board participation demands are more favorable, the due diligence step has become more detailed.  A company that receives growth financing must prove that it has a scalable business model, provides a differentiated product that customers clearly want, and can consistently generate a reasonable profit. 

Too many applicants for private investor financing ask investors to cover their day to day operating expenses instead of solving their profitability issues before approaching investors. And too many applicants are looking for small amounts of money, which just wastes the potential investor’s time.

Too many applicants haven’t taken the time to learn about various financing instruments.  A mid-sized company that could/should finance growth through stronger joint ventures or clearer equity deals with key stakeholders will probably be turned down by a venture capital fund.  I’ve seen business owners look right past licensing, franchising, and corporate sponsorship opportunities.

As an advocate for mid-sized companies, I have noticed that:

the lobbying of many statewide chambers of commerce is focused more and more on large corporations and micro sized businesses… sometimes to the exclusion of mid-sized companies. This is happening, in large part, because owners of mid-sized companies have been letting our memberships in statewide chambers of commerce lapse.

When association dues are compared to the electric bill, this may seem like a frugal thing to do. But the national and statewide chambers of commerce can provide a strong voice for members. The thing is, they can’t help change the policies and regulations that stunt our growth if we aren’t members and let them know our priorities.

The needs of huge publicly traded corporations are often very different from the priorities of privately held innovation driven mid-sized companies.  Plus the largest corporations have their own government relations departments and directly pay professional lobbyists. Being part of an effective statewide chamber of commerce can feel like you have your own government relations department and professional lobbyists on staff. A few hundred dollars of dues to have some say about the issues that encourage or stunt business growth seems a small price to pay.

As a Business Owner/Executive/Employer, I have noticed that:

targeted market research is more important than ever…and needs more frequent updates than ever. Baby Boomer business owners who wanted to continue to work for 5-6 more years will suddenly decide that their succession plans must immediately change because they “have had it” and will retire soon. Leaders of growing businesses that had been fighting industry consolidation are quietly entertaining proposals from “roll up artists.”  Leaders of stagnant companies suddenly awaken to the need to clean house, create new products, go global, or upgrade technology.  Readiness for dramatic change is impossible to read if your market research is too infrequent to catch the changes.

Aldonna R. Ambler, CMC, CSP has earned the right to be called The Growth Strategist™. She has won over two dozen national and statewide “Entrepreneur of the Year” awards for the resilient growth of her international businesses across four recessions.  Her mid-sized B-to-B clients get on…and then stay on…the published lists of the fastest growing privately held companies. She owns and operates a suite of companies that help privately held mid-sized companies in Achieving Accelerated Growth With Sustained Profitability® through opportunity and resource analysis, four approaches to strategic planning, executive advisory services, growth financing and targeted search.  2012 is Ambler’s 8th year hosting a weekly peer-to-peer-to-peer syndicated online talk show that features interviews with CEOs/Presidents of mid-sized companies (typically between $20 and 200 Mil/yr) sharing success tips about the growth strategy-of-the-week. An archive of over 300 interviews is available at www.GrowthStrategistShow.com.

The Top Nine Causes of The Plateau Pattern™: Distraction

The President of a $20 Mil/yr service firm, Sam is a creative thinker.  He’ll come back with at least 2 new product/service ideas whenever he speaks at industry conferences on behalf of the firm.  He’ll discover a great new target market when he surfs the Internet or overhears casual conversations at social gatherings.

Is Sam’s company poised for growth? A plateau? Freefall?

No very short vignette can convey the entire story, but there actually is enough information here to cue relevant questions.  An entrepreneur’s creativity can be an optimizing or a limiting factor for a company’s growth.

Does Sam share his ideas or does he just think about them? Does he dive right in as he has new ideas and dilute cash and other resources?  Does Sam rush to start multiple businesses?  Does Sam assume he has to find new partners and employees for each idea and never offer opportunities to existing team members? Does Sam resist the establishment of an innovation process so the team can capture creativity, rank order opportunities, and turn ideas into real products/services?

Several of the 2012 guests on my peer-to-peer talk show, The Growth Strategist®, are a lot like Sam.  The ones who represent companies that are listed on the INC 500 all have invested in fabulous innovation processes so their companies can turn great ideas into new products/services.  Download shows featuring ZIRMED or DIALOGUE MARKETING to see and hear how they do it.

Distraction comes in many forms.  Some entrepreneurs have attention deficit disorder. Other entrepreneurs must invest in support services on the home front to keep chores and errands moving along.  Some of us have experienced the intense “distraction” of care taking duties with seriously ill spouses, parents, or children.  That experience can quickly make being the President of a midsized company feel like it is the distracting role.  Hmm.

 

The Top Nine Causes of The Plateau Pattern™: Complacence

George is the President of a midsized 8 year old company.  The company was included on the lists of the fastest growing companies and best places to work for several years in a row. George has won local “entrepreneur of the year” awards and is frequently invited to speak about “innovation” at chamber of commerce and technology council events. 2009/2010 were challenging years for just about every company in their niche, so George’s team did not over-react when their growth slowed.  After all, “flat is the new UP,”right? George and his team remained confident that the launch of the 5th version of their software would be well received in 2011.

What do you think?  Is the company positioned for growth? A plateau? Implosion?

The bad news is that the 5th version of the software did not sell well.  But the good news is that the disappointment might be just the wakeup call George and his team needed.

Although a vignette cannot possibly convey the whole story, there IS enough information here to prompt some relevant questions.

How dependent is George’s business on one software product (be it 1st or 5th version)?  Have the revisions been based on updates in technology, research about customer needs and preferences, both, or neither? Have they been riding the wave of success from past innovation? Sometimes people start to believe their own press clippings. Maybe George and his team were quite entrepreneurial and innovative 8 years ago. Are they now?

It would be very interesting to learn what younger, bright, ambitious employees in George’s business are thinking.  Do they view the management team as exciting industry leaders who continue to earn the respect of their team?  Or do they view George and his team as out of date and out of touch?  8 years is a long time when it comes to technology.

George and his team could prevent a mutiny (or exodus) and a plateau (or free fall) IF they can renew their commitment to and investment in:

  •   timely market research,
  •   a culture and process of innovation and continuous learning, and
  •   expansive thinking, so they reduce their dependence on a single product line.

The fifth top cause of The Plateau Pattern™ is “complacence” (cockiness).

 

Recognizing Opportunities That Exist in Challenged Markets

The growth of architectural firms is challenged when their customers can completely eliminate the need for architects by purchasing Cad Cam software.  Graphic artists are similarly frustrated by people who are under the misimpression that using clip art is equivalent. So what should your company do if its core customer base is architects or graphic artists? You would undoubtedly notice that most of your competitors have been shifting their marketing and sales efforts to target other industries.  Should you do the same thing?

Recently our market research clearly confirmed our client’s perception that its core client base is in an industry that is headed for trouble. Technology is tempting their clients’ customers to do more on their own and rely less on our client. Generational preferences and shifting priorities will only increase the challenges for this client’s customers.

One option is that our client could become THE leader that helps transform a challenged industry. While their competitors run away, they could provide state of the art technology. They could become THE source of leading edge strategies that help its customers survive/thrive despite the odds. They could help their customers develop new products/services. They could lead a roll up or an industry consolidation.

Are you just following what your competitors are doing or at least considering alternatives?

Aldonna R. Ambler, CMC, CSP has earned the right to be called The Growth Strategist®. She has won over two dozen national and statewide “entrepreneur of the year” awards for the resilient growth of her international businesses across 4 recessions.  Her midsized B-to-B service, technology, and distribution clients get on…and then stay on…the published lists of the fastest growing privately held companies. All of her own service businesses (strategic planning, executive advisory, growth financing, radio show, speaking, and search) help privately held midsized companies in Achieving Accelerated Growth With Sustained Profitability®. Ambler is in her 8th year hosting a weekly peer-to-peer-to-peer online program at www.growthstrategistshow.com that features interviews with CEOs/Presidents of midsized companies (typically between $20 and 200 Mil/yr) sharing success tips about the growth strategy-of-the-week. Family owned businesses are being emphasized in 2011. Ambler is in the process of launching her 8th enterprise. She can be reached toll free at 1-888-Aldonna or at Aldonna@AMBLER.com.

[video post] Results of Analysis of 15 Years of Funding High Potential Service Firms

Results of Analysis of 15 Years of Funding High Potential Service Firms

Bankers don’t like to do non asset based lending, so sometimes owners of service firms are under-capitalized.   When a service firm delivers great value for its clients, the owners learn how to manage cash well enough to self fund continued hiring. So they typically need more money to fund stepped up marketing, which is another reason bankers seem reluctant to finance service firms. Bankers do not feel comfortable evaluating the quality and expected return on investment in proposed marketing campaigns.

Occasionally, a private investor is an alternative to being repeatedly turned down by traditional bankers, but they have the same difficulty evaluating the ROI on marketing.

The 13 investors who pooled their money to form The Service Industry Fund™ 15 years ago look to me to evaluate the scalability and resilience of high potential service firms.  I have noticed that most owners of growth oriented service firms are willing to invest in their personnel.  They’ll pay top dollar for a scientist/inventor, a rainmaker, or a controller, but they tend to skimp when it comes to marketing.  They’ll bring in interns or ask an entry level employee to do their press releases, social media, and websites updates.

Too many owners of service firms are convinced that no one can understand their businesses as well as they do.  No one could convey the benefits and differentiation better than they can.  So why should they spend money on high priced marketing talent? I also think the frugal behavior is a result of their not knowing what they don’t know about the art and science of marketing.

Recently, we reviewed the portfolio to see which service firms have been the most successful and concluded that the firms that invested in proven marketing agencies and executives have done the best.  Those firms were able to package their processes through more effective merchandising (PRODUCTIZE).  Those firms were able to quantify their investment in process and product development and marketing so they could price their licensing or certification deals and protect quality.

 

Aldonna R. Ambler, CMC, CSP has earned the right to be called THE GROWTH STRATEGIST®. She has won over 2 dozen national and statewide “entrepreneur of the year” awards for the resilient growth of her international businesses across 4 recessions.  Her midsized BtoB clients get on…and then stay on…the published lists of the fastest growing privately held companies. She owns and operates a suite of companies that help privately held midsized companies achieving accelerated growth with sustained profitability® through opportunity & resource analysis, 4 approaches to strategic planning, executive advisory services, growth financing, and targeted search.  2012 is Ambler’s 8th year hosting a weekly peer-to-peer-to-peer syndicated on line talk show that features interviews with CEOs/Presidents of midsized companies (typically between $20 and 200 Mil/yr) sharing success tips about the growth strategy-of-the-week. An archive of over 300 interviews is available at www.GrowthStrategistShow.com. She can be reached toll free at 1-888-Aldonna or at Aldonna@AMBLER.com.

Nobody Cares What Your 2007 Customer Survey Said!

The recent recession and the lingering period of uncertainty that followed has had an odd effect on some business leaders.  Yeah, I know we all need to conserve cash.  I get that.  But most of us need MORE information about what our prospective customers are thinking, need, prefer, want, and would pay for…NOT LESS.  We can’t afford to make costly mistakes investing in products and marketing based on outdated information! Who cares what your customer survey results were in 2007! It’s like “dog years.” Those 5 YEARS are equivalent to 35 YEARS when it comes to marketing!

Even though museums competed against places like zoos and theme parks in 2007, area residents would still visit. Today, those same museums face funding cuts and are now competing more with children spending their time texting on smart phones than with zoos.  A secret shopper project we recently conducted as part of a strategic assessment/growth strategy planning assignment revealed how incredibly behind many businesses have gotten over the past 5 years.  Wouldn’t more frequent market research help family focused organizations catch up?

A community banker who was competing for a signature on the next subprime mortgage deal  in 2007 is just now coming out of his/her shell after cleaning up the book of bad loans, foreclosures, and short sales. A few years ago, community banks had a window of opportunity to compete against the huge financial institutions because so many people were angry about government funded bailouts and the underlying causes of the recession.  But today, many of us have almost accepted the realities of this “new economy” even though consumer confidence varies on a daily basis.  How frequently should community banks conduct their market research to guide decisions about how to compete for your and my trust?

In 2007, I was in my 3rd year hosting a weekly online peer to peer radio talk radio show with Presidents of midsized companies.  If we had ignored (or not done) market research, would we have missed the cue to become completely video based, use YOUTUBE, and shorten the interview segments?

There are many cost effective options out there, including secret shopping companies,  customer satisfaction survey firms, interviewers who can focus on specific targets, etc. Isn’t it more expensive and risky to fly without a net!

 

Aldonna R. Ambler, CMC, CSP has earned the right to be called THE GROWTH STRATEGIST®. She has won over 2 dozen national and statewide “entrepreneur of the year” awards for the resilient growth of her international businesses across 4 recessions.  Her midsized BtoB clients get on…and then stay on…the published lists of the fastest growing privately held companies. She owns and operates a suite of companies that help privately held midsized companies achieving accelerated growth with sustained profitability® through opportunity & resource analysis, 4 approaches to strategic planning, executive advisory services, growth financing, and targeted search.  2012 is Ambler’s 8th year hosting a weekly peer-to-peer-to-peer syndicated on line talk show that features interviews with CEOs/Presidents of midsized companies (typically between $20 and 200 Mil/yr) sharing success tips about the growth strategy-of-the-week. An archive of over 300 interviews is available at www.GrowthStrategistShow.com. She can be reached toll free at 1-888-Aldonna or at Aldonna@AMBLER.com.

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