Category Archives: marketing

Social Media As A Sales Tool

Many companies are starting to experiment with social media and how it can be integrated into their overall marketing strategy to support company goals and objectives.

In addition to creating and promoting a corporate presence on various social media Web sites, it also makes sense for sales professionals to become familiar with social media, and to use it for the benefit of their business. 

Getting involved in social media can offer value to sales professionals, without requiring hours of time.  In fact, there are a number of benefits to be gained by spending only minutes a week on popular social media sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter.  

Take advantage of these six guidelines for engaging in social media as a sales tool:

1.  Connect with and make better use of your professional network. Sales is a relationship business, and professional social media sites (such as LinkedIn) provide an additional way for account executives to enhance their relationships with clients and prospects alike. 

Social media offers you another platform – beyond more traditional email and telephone conversations – for connecting with key contacts that you wish to reach out to and engage with further.  Not only will you learn more about them, but they can gain a better understanding of your expertise, your thought leadership and the value you have to offer.  Social media is also a useful way to obtain referrals and recommendations from your contacts, helping you grow your network.  

2.  Learn more about your prospects and clients. Social media also offers an excellent way to gather intelligence from your contacts.  Pay close attention to the professional profiles of your clients and prospects, looking for anything that can make you more successful in conversations with them. 

The intelligence that can be gleaned from a prospect’s or client’s profile can help to identify common ground and enhance the sales conversation.  For example, examine their previous experience – maybe they have worked at another company in the past that is a client of yours.  Or read more about their education, as you may find something you can use as a way to begin a conversation or make a connection.

Also, be mindful of the fact that your professional contacts – prospects, clients, other colleagues – are likely using social media sites to learn more about you and your company as well.  Therefore, it’s important to ensure that you are displaying a complete and professional profile.

3.  Identify decision-makers and other appropriate contacts within a company. Professional social media sites provide a wealth of information on organizations.  First, many people are connected to their colleagues.  By taking a closer look at the profiles of your clients and prospects, you may be able to fill in some of the blanks regarding decision makers within a company.

Company profiles also offer intelligence on key individuals within organizations.  These can help you identify the appropriate contact within a company, especially if your initial contact has left and you are having trouble getting in touch with anyone beyond the receptionist. 

4.  Gain new work-related insight. Groups, message boards and other social media sites are an excellent way to discuss relevant industry topics with likeminded professionals in group settings.  At its core, social media is a conversation, so identify groups that are relevant to your industry and expertise and participating in the discussion.

By joining a group or getting involved in other social media sites, you have the opportunity to learn from other professionals within your industry, contribute to discussions on topics that fit well within your area of expertise, and differentiate yourself and your company as a consultant and a thought leader. 

Consider focusing your efforts on making thoughtful contributions to the most relevant topics – you do not need to respond to every discussion within a group.  Ensure that your comments are adding value and presenting your company in a positive manner.

5.  Remember the basics of social media. While participating in social media can be beneficial to sales professionals, it is important to respect it as a communications platform.  Don’t abuse it as a way to push a sales pitch.   Remember that social media is a two-way conversation, and ensure that your actions are providing value.

6.  Offer guidelines for effective use. Sales and marketing management should consider holding training sessions or developing guidelines on how to effectively use social media as a sales tool.  In addition to providing guidelines on how to create accounts on relevant social media sites, you can offer examples of demonstrated best practices for utilizing social media resources for professional use.  It would also be valuable to emphasize the importance of spending the right balance of time on it, and demonstrating how it can be a powerful tool in the sales process. 

For businesses, social media offers an unprecedented opportunity to engage in conversations with their audiences – both customers and prospects.   Take advantage of social media tools to foster positive relationships with your clients and prospects, and to support your overall business goals.

Article by Angela Hribar

Etiquette Is A Simple Balance Of ‘Give’ And ‘Take’…”First Converse, Then Commerce”

When was the last time you attended a networking event and you were approached by a person who was more interested in pitching his product or services with little regard of who you were and what you did?   Most likely the last networking event you attended.

Dictionary defines etiquette as conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority in social or official life. With this definition as a guiding principle, etiquette is even more important in a networking situation than in others because most who are in the “taking” end do not even realize that their behaviors and even attitudes are making it hard for those at the “giving” end to be gracious about being considerate.

Why?

Etiquettes are the lubrication that makes things move smoothly. Ignoring them can create unnecessary friction and hurt. Practicing the right etiquette will not only get what you want, it will also help you position yourself in a differentiated way in the eyes of those who are at the “giving” end!

Girl Scouts Gone Viral

It’s likely that Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon Low would approve of her organization’s recent plunge into viral marketing. After all, Low used the then-newfangled telephone almost a century ago to declare her intention to start the Girl Scouts to a friend.

Like technology, cookie sales have been part of the organization since its early years. It’s a lucrative tradition: The cookies, including Thin Mints and Samoas, bring in $700 million in sales a year.

But cookie sales slipped about 1% last year, prompting the organization to look for new ways to get its message across to potential cookie buyers.

The result? The Girl Scouts posted a video on YouTube called “What can a cookie do?,” which has attracted about 24,000 hits since it was posted Jan. 19.

“We’re anxious to see how it works because it lets us get our message out in a cost-effective way,” Laurel Richie, chief marketing officer of the Girl Scouts of the USA, says. She also hopes the video will help engender trust among those viewing the ad. “There’s a greater engagement when a video is passed onto you, because it has the implicit endorsement of the person who passes it on,” Richie says.

The video focuses the connection between cookie purchases and how the girls use the funds to help their communities, learn business skills and build self-confidence. Its point: “Every cookie has a mission: to help girls do great things.”

While the video aims to get viewers to understand the philosophy behind cookie sales, it also directs viewers to a website where they can find a place to buy the treats.

It’s About Product Positioning And Not All About Price!

I talk to Sales Managers at hotels on almost a daily basis and one of their most commonly asked questions is “What will it take for us to win this piece of business?”

“Well you can lower the rate to $99, give me a 1 per 20 comp, waive the attrition, and throw in the Presidential Suite for me and the family for the week!”

OK, let’s get serious and break down the question to its simplest form.

“What will it take” are four words that should send a chill up the spine of every customer who is posed the question.  Why?  Because it’s “old school inside the box sales 101”.  It’s “let’s go down the price path” which gives you and the customer nothing more to discuss than price point.

Now close your eyes…take a deep breath…exhale…and repeat this sentence…“What do I need to know that will allow us to provide you with the best deal possible?”  Now open your eyes.  See, you feel much better now don’t you?

“What do I need to know” are words that say “I need to find out what you’re really looking for so I can best position and offer that’s a win-win”. 

You see it’s about product positioning and not all about price.  Here are some thoughts that will help you to position your product and close more deals.

Find attributes about your hotel that your customer can hang his hat on.  You need to find deliverables that inspire, motivate, and encourage the customer to seriously consider you as a candidate for the short list or a contract.  Remember that “price” is only one part of the equation.  If your hotel can’t stand up and deliver after the contract is signed, price means nothing.

Here is how Boca Raton Resort positions their resort…”Designed by legendary architect Addison Mizner (I don’t have a clue who this guy is), Boca Raton Resort, The Waldorf Astoria Collection (that’s selling sizzle) has reigned as an icon of elegance for more than 80 years (that’s staying power, reliability and consistency).  Today, the resort remains faithful to its glamorous past (here’s the hook), but radiates a vibrant new energy (not a musty 80-year old resort on the beach) and offers infinite amenities to provide each guest with the perfect getaway” (there’s something here for everyone). 

If you’re the ABC Airport Hotel, you still have attributes that are particular to your market niche IF you take the time to look for them with a new attitude.

Let us examine an analytic model of competitive market equilibrium in the presence of switching costs?  But seriously you need to understand your competitive set and the perceived “switching cost” for a customer.  Switching costs or switching barriers are terms used in microeconomics, strategic management, and marketing to describe any impediment to a customer’s changing of suppliers.  This is essentially what you are dealing with every time you sell against your competitive set.

Reinvent the customer experience.  There are so many things that have changed in this world over the past 12 months and those changes have directly or indirectly impacted both you and your prospective customer.  What’s important to your customer today may not be the same thing that was important to him 12 months ago.  Look for those signs, rethink the customer experience, and take advantage of it.

Position your product relative to the market leader in your competitive set.  Publicly or to prospective customers, always put your hotel on the same level as the market leader in your competitive set.  It elevates your hotel in terms of customer perception and allows you to sell without the need to “look over your shoulder”.

Find support for your hotel in and outside of your four walls.  Right now there is a customer checking out at your front desk who can attest to the great experience that he had while attending a meeting at your hotel.  Are you in your office pushing paper or out polling a potential army of supporters?  It’s actually kind of a fun exercise especially if you can find someone who is not rushing out the door to catch his next flight.

‘Beating The Commodity Trap’

Unusually for a business book these days, this one has a restrained, unsensational title. But “Beating the Commodity Trap” describes a process that is (or should be) terrifying for its readers: commoditization.

You may think your business offers rare and valuable goods and services. But the chances are that, somewhere, a recent entrant or potential competitor is preparing to do something similar, for a lower price. As the author says, “Everything becomes a commodity eventually.”

Richard D’Aveni is professor of strategic management at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, N.H. This book is a successor to his 1994 work “Hypercompetition,” in which he described how technology and globalization were destroying long-established competitive advantages.

Now, he says, businesses face the commodity trap — “a particularly virulent form of hypercompetition.”

His tone is sober and urgent. D’Aveni is writing for the time-poor executive, who is aware of encircling threats but uncertain what to do about them.

When facing low-cost competition, companies traditionally try to cut costs or innovate. But this can trap them in “never-ending cycles of hypercompetition,” D’Aveni says. Survival requires smarter and subtler responses.

The author describes three types of commodity traps. First, there is deterioration, in which low-end businesses enter with “lower cost, lower benefit” options that attract the mass market, much in the way Zara, the Spanish fashion chain, has done. In the deterioration trap, prices go down, and the benefits for customers go down too.

The second type is proliferation. Here, either cheaper or more expensive alternatives with “unique benefits” attack different parts of an incumbent’s market — as Japanese and U.S. motorcycle makers did to Harley-Davidson. Prices and benefits for customers may go up or down.

Third, and perhaps most dramatically, there is escalation. Here, players offer more benefits for the same or lower price, squeezing everyone’s margins, as Apple has done with iPods. Prices go down and benefits for customers go up.

In this world of commodity traps, D’Aveni says, managers will understand what the Red Queen in “Through the Looking-Glass” meant when she said: “Here you must run faster and faster to get nowhere at all!”

To move on, companies must be resourceful, and “change the industry’s structure,” “redefine price” or “define new segments.”

How do you avoid deterioration? Diesel, the fashion business, has done this by establishing expertise in denim products, the author says. Other high-end fashion companies have begun selling “baby cashmere” clothes, made from the first combing of a young goat. You need 20 goats to make one jumper. “This is a place where low-end players cannot follow,” D’Aveni writes.

Another alternative is the side-step strategy: “Move away from the pull of the market power of low-end rivals.” Armani and Dolce & Gabbana preview part of their collections in private showings to avoid early copying. “Some 60% to 70% of Armani revenues are attributable to such ‘pre-collection’ sales,” D’Aveni said.

Proliferation is daunting, but you “cannot fight everyone, everywhere, all the time,” D’Aveni says. You have to try to manage these threats. As A.G. Lafley, former chief executive at Procter & Gamble, used to say: “Where are you going to play, and where are you going to win?”

The hotel sector has suffered from proliferation. Andrew Cosslett, InterContinental Hotels CEO, tells D’Aveni: “Hotels in the past have been segmented by price and not much else. . . . Brands in the future will have to stand for something.”

Executives may question how useful it is to follow advice from D’Aveni, who is also a consultant. But every business needs to think about how to defeat these threats. As he says: “Commoditization doesn’t just happen to commodities.”