Rotting Lumber, Rusty Hammer, Angry Dad

TreehouseI started hearing some banging and sawing and the noise of neighborhood children having serious fun a few months ago.  Curious I followed my ears into the woods near my house and found them hard at work trying to build something.  I had an immediate memory-flash back to my youth, and to my early parenting years watching my own young children.

Probably throughout the march of history, adventurous children have hiked off into the woods or behind the garage carrying hammers, nails, and lumber scraps, all “borrowed” from the family workshop.  Their minds are filled with grandiose mental images of creating a fort, pirate ship, or clubhouse.  Most of these construction projects start with a lot of banging and end with an abandoned construction site and a harried Dad looking for tools that are rusting and decaying over at the now-forgotten “Fort Apache.”

The reason for failure is typically because the little adventurers started with a mental image of whatever they wanted to build, lots of childish enthusiasm and energy, but no planning.  If they had a simple blueprint more clubhouses would actually get built.

It’s pretty much the same with most Marketing Plans.  They get started with grandiose mental images and dreams of success but very little, if anything, gets committed to paper and a formal (or semi-formal) planning process.  Just as a blueprint for a building (or a fort) starts with a goal and plan, the Marketing Plan starts with an identifiable goal.  Both the blueprint for a kid’s fort and marketing plandevelop in the same way, with foundation, position, themes, timetables, budgets, and sub-projects… all working towards the ultimate, identified end – a workable Plan.

The next time you think of starting a marketing project, stop!  Think of an unfinished, rotting Fort Apache with a rusty hammer and an angry Dad.  Then get out the paper and pencil and design the Plan first.  What specifically do you want to accomplish – maybe it’s expressed in sales volume or number of units to sell, or lost customers to reactivate, or new customers to attract.  Then develop the theme, visuals, media strategy, timetable, budget, and fulfillment strategy.

You don’t want your promotions to end up looking like that partially built fort, you want it to be a huge success that will accomplish your goals and that requires a plan.  So, instead of banging away with youthful enthusiasm, put pencil to paper and get started.

Question or comment to Larry:

Barnumize it & Make Your Events a Circus!

Back in the 1800’s P.T. Barnum earned his fame and fortune by promoting “P.T. Barnum’s Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome. The show eventually merged and became Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, famously promoted as “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

People flocked to his circuses, and they became a magnet for “Ladies, Gentlemen, and Children of All Ages!” Barnum was an amazing, legendary promoter making people think these events were bigger than life. Barnum, by dint of his imagination and unflappable ability to hype the mundane,put his stamp on business promotion that is still being used effectively today.

Using events, and turning them into circuses is one way to promote your business but to make your events successful, you should think like Barnum. He didn’t do the same, tired old thing. He made his events outstanding… he brought exotic animals, freaks, acrobats and clowns, even men being shot out of a cannon. Some of these, of course, are frowned upon today but back then they were amazingly popular.

OK, I know you don’t own a circus (though it might appear that way sometimes), but think how you can bring Barnum’s brand of fun to your businesses events?

No matter what type of business you are in, if you “Barnumize” your events you will get folks to flock to your products and services:

  • Retailers hold tent sales in the parking lot. Have a fun theme and promote the theme.
  • Home Builders have “Parade of Homes” … but this time hire mimes to act out living in them… or even get cardboard cut-outs that stand in the rooms and point out the features and benefits
  • French Restaurants celebrate Bastille Day; Chinese Restaurants celebrate Chinese New Year, Mexican Restaurants celebrate Cinco de Mayo. There’s got to be a holiday you can hang your promotion on.
  • Investment advisors hold seminars. Why not create a puppet show showing an advisor working with clients and the puppet does the explaining… ok, it’s a little hokey but investment advisors can put an audience to sleep fast.
  • Industrial companies have Plant Tours. Why not get staff to sing a welcome song, then mingle with the guests acting as ambassadors.

Barnum knew we are all attracted to exciting events and high drama so I challenge you to imitate old P.T. for a few moments and invent an event for you to attract those flocks. The list of possible events is almost endless for any business, gosh there is Founders Day, The Company Birthday, and Fourth of July if you are stuck for a theme, but I know you can find themes more germane to your market. I also know they can be enormously successful for those who expend the effort to invent and promote using thematic events.

Question or comment to Larry:

The Name is the Game!

Attentive BabyAs humans, we seem to be hard-wired to respond to our name.

Almost the first thing a new baby reacts to is the sound of its name.  That infant hears their name repeated so often it is imprinted into the child’s unconscious.  Adults respond to their name, whether printed or spoken, in exactly the same way.  We like to hear our name; we love to read it.  In fact, most people can spot their name that is embedded in a whole page of text even when turning a page as if it leaped off the page.

Try it right now with the next person you speak to.  Inject their name into a sentence and watch how their attention becomes momentarily riveted by the familiar sound.  

If you want to grab attention, address people by name when talking to them in person or on the telephone. Insert their name into the body of letters and e-mails.  Use their name in the salutation and in a post-script.  Direct Marketers embellish their advertising mailings with names of their prospects; many studies have shown that using a recipients’ name in the subject line of an email will cause a substantially higher “open rate.”    

Yes, of course, we know intellectually that our name in the subject line of aneblasted email or imprinted on an envelope of a mailed piece, or used in the salutation of a mechanically produced letter has been done in some impersonal, digital manner but humans are emotional creatures and our ego responds to, what appears to be, the personal attention given to us by the use of our name.  

Before I end this article, I must mention one potential downside to using someone’s name.  Be careful that you use their name correctly – for example, my real name is Lawrence, not Larry.  If you send me an email with “Lawrence, this is especially for you!” it is an immediate disqualification because I only use that name on legal documents, never for other uses so my emotional filter will reject that email, envelope, or phone call from a telemarketer.

Name usage, if used wisely can grab attention and build relationships with customers, prospects, and associates so I challenge you to do a little experiment to prove or disprove whether name usage increases the attention of the person(s) you are communicating with.  Work at injecting names into your written and spoken communications and see what difference it makes. Let me know what you discover.

Question or comment to Larry:

The Marketing Committee Meeting at a Mini-Company

Meet for Breakfast text beneath a muffin and coffee

Company management faces the same competitive pressures in both big and small firms. There are some advantages of being small, but when it comes to marketing, small companies never seem to have the time or the manpower because they are working like crazy to get the work done to satisfy their customers and there is no time, personnel, or budget left to do the marketing.

They are “putting out fires” or “out in the field” or “checking in a delivery” and of course, these activities are very important. The problem is that they must compete every day against companies with dedicated marketing, advertising, and sales departments whose mission is to grab all the business. To a large extent the larger companies and the behemoths are succeeding, not because they produce a superior product or service, but because they have a much better marketing department (or they actually do have a marketing department, while the small company has either a very small (usually one person wearing many hats) marketing effort or none).

A very small, two-person firm made it their goal to start marketing better this year and formed a “Marketing Department.” Yes, it’s just the same two people who do everything else at the company, but now, instead of trying to squeeze time for this important company function while in the midst of doing other tasks, they have dedicated a specific, regular lump of time to this one function. They dedicated one hour every Tuesday morning for a breakfast meeting at a local restaurant, to this task.

Since they don’t have any real marketing experience, they started by doing some research on the web and by borrowing some books from the library and digging in, both to breakfast and to marketing. Their goal is to write a Marketing Plan with budgets, projects, and promotions, then to implement the Plan as soon as they have their projects planned for the next month.

This weekly, dedicated breakfast meeting concept is taking hold, and now they have dedicated specific times to different tasks:

  • The Wednesday afternoon “Production Planning” coffee break
  • The Thursday “Financial Planning” lunch
  • The Friday late afternoon “Happy Hour” (got to take a break sometime or you’ll burn out!)

Of course, they talk to each other all the time to encourage and support each other, but they’ve found that having these dedicated meeting times is different than chatting – these meetings have a specific purpose, and they take active steps to work on keeping this mini-business growing into a real enterprise.

It’s a good start!

Question or comment to Larry:

It’s Easy to Promote on “Low Price” but For Success Add “Value”

Two Roads Stop and Extra MileWhile low price will usually generate sales volume, unless you can figure out how to decrease unit cost at the same time, you lose margin and, (trumpets blaring here) the customers you gain on low price will oftendefect when a competitor offers an even better (and lower) price. If you want to retain your customers you might be better off promoting “Added Value”.

Satisfaction instead of lowest price dominates retention and in fact, value-added products or services often command a higher price that customers are willing to pay. Use the following examples as idea stimulators to increase the value equation for your business.

Add Value with “No Cost Extra Service”: The car was in the garage for minor repair. When picking up the car, the customer was happily surprised to find the carpets had been vacuumed at no charge. There was a business card attached to the steering wheel that stated, “We always vacuum the interior as part of our extra-value service.” The garage put a smile on the customer’s face with almost no added cost by vacuuming the carpets.

Add Value with Speed: Clothing altered in one day… Same day shipping… Five-minute loan application… Eyeglasses in one-hour. Call when you are ready to leave and your order will be ready when you arrive.

Add Value with Follow-through: Your furnace was just repaired and the company adds value by phoning to make sure the work was completed properly.

Add Value with Communication: Send “Helpful Hints” on product use… create a newsletter… congratulate customers on product anniversaries (Wow! Your refrigerator is ten years old!). The florist reminds you of your mother’s birthday – why would you go anywhere else?

Add Value with Ambiance: Fresh flowers in reception area… Spotless Washrooms… Appropriate Music… Creative and Attractive Packaging… An after-dinner mint graciously given (instead of thrown in a “grab-bowl”). 

Add Value with Extra Information: They bought a piece of equipment and you email them tips or additional uses or creative ways to enjoy their purchase once a month for years (it’s OK to repeat them just not too often).

There is no end to the list of tactics to add value. This week I challenge you and your staff to create a list of ten tactics you could employ, choose the best, and implement it.

The easy and lazy to way to promote is to slash prices. It’s far better to win them with added value – they will be happy to buy from you if they feel they have gotten more for their money.

Question or comment to Larry:

It’s Hard to Steal a Happy Client & Easy to Lose One Who Is Unhappy!


The salesperson delivered his pitch complete with attractive graphics, graphs, and photos of happy clients. Embellishing the presentation were currently popular sayings like, “building our business one client at a time,” “we’re building growing relationships,” “underpromise and overperform,” and “when our clients profit, we profit.”

The listener sighed, almost rolled her eyes and said to herself, “they talk a good game, I’ve heard all this relationship stuff before, but I’m unhappy with my current vendor, the price is competitive, and if they do half as much as this guy says we’ll be getting more for our buck so I’ll give this guy a try. And she signed the contract for a “Trial Period.”

Three days later she received a had written(!) “thank you” note in the mail(!) from the salesperson along with a list of people in the firm she could contact for various services. A week later she received an “Introduction to Our Company” brochure. A month later the salesperson called, asking if she had any questions or problems and, although he doesn’t work with the client directly, he checks in with her every two or three months to improve the relationship, discover if there are any problems, and seeks to find further opportunities.

This is a classic “Sales Satisfaction System.” While most companies have their salespeople say, “Thank You” and then go on to sell to the next prospect, this company has their salespeople deepen the relationship by ensuring that the client is truly satisfied.

A Sales Satisfaction System is designed to back up the promises made in the presentation and further establishes the relationship from “vendor” to “trusted vendor we rely on.” She has found their service actually is as good as all those clichés in the original sales presentation. Now she relies on them and has expanded her use of their services substantially.

She recently received an ad for a similar service at a lower price. She glanced at it, wadded it up into a ball and lofted a three-point shot into the wastebasket, smiling in the confidence of her growing and profitable relationship.

If a company’s success is based on long-term customer retention and repeat sales then an ongoing “Sales Satisfaction System” will reinforce the commitment to the client and act as an ongoing retention strategy.

What “Sales Satisfaction System” in place at your company?

Time for a “SPARKLE” Inspection!


It’s a normal workday. You drive to work, park your car in back and walk in through the “company” door. Just like any other normal workday but today I invite you to walk in the same way your customer does. Walk in through the “Customer Door.” Conduct a “Sparkle” inspection.

A Sparkle Inspection? What’s that you say?

Let’s step back a moment, back to your Foundational Statements – you know… your Mission, Vision, and Values. I’ll bet that somewhere in those statements there are references to customer satisfaction, quality, high levels of performance, that sort of thing. Maybe you wrote those statement because you felt obliged to impress someone, maybe you felt you were expected to mention these customer-friendly attributes, or maybe you wrote them in because you were sincere about wanting to impress your customers and prospects (or at least not turn them off because of slovenliness. Either way, it has probably been years since you inspected, really inspected, your physical location for “Sparkle.”

So, you walk into your place of business through the “public” door. Does that door have greasy fingerprints all over it or is it inviting? Does the entry look and smell like a used ashtray with cigarette butts (and their smell) sticking out of a flowerpot? Is the carpet clean? Are the plants healthy or do they look like they are about to perish in the middle of a desert drought heavy with spider webs? Does the public area appear to be part of a successful, bustling business? If not it’s definitely time for a change.

If you have a waiting area, it is clean, tidy, and orderly? Is reading material strewn all over the place or neatly arranged attractively? Are lightening fixtures clean or dusty? Are chairs lined up or do they look like a horde of teenagers have camped out for a day or two?

When you inspect the work area, does the work area pulsate with a busy hum with tools, work-in-progress and finished work orderly or does it look like chaos?

More importantly, once you have made any necessary changes and your business sparkles, how are you going to keep it that way? One small, local company formed a three-person committee charged with inspecting the public area the first Monday of every month. They go through a checklist and post it. Corrective measures are taken to ensure they sparkle… always!

Cleanliness isn’t “Mickey Mouse!”… a Winning Marketing Strategy

If you have ever listened to friends just back from a vacation at a Disney Theme Park, you have heard them exclaim about how clean and spotless everything is. “You never see even a piece of paper on the ground!” “They must have an army of “litter-picker-uppers!” It didn’t just “happen by chance.”

Cleanliness is part of the Disney plan to make their customers (“Guests” in Disneyspeak) enjoy a perfect experience. Super-Cleanliness is a hallmark of that perfect experience. It is the embodiment of the Disney Culture and shows that the staff is ever vigilant against litter. There is also the implication that the vigilant staff also makes the park safer and more secure.

Most companies can use super-Cleanliness as a marketing tool:
• Real Estate brokers find a Super-Clean home easier to sell and will usually attract a higher price, not only because it is more attractive, it gives the impression that the home is well maintained.
• Restaurant patrons feel that spotless washrooms are indicative of sanitary kitchens (since one rarely gets a peek in the kitchen).
• A tidy auto garage gives the feeling that extra care is taken in repairing the car.
• Clean retail display windows impress, dirty display windows detract.
• Manufacturing plants, distribution centers, packagers that are clean and orderly are more likely to have a better safety record and produce higher quality and / or more accurate output.
• Clean and shiny company vehicles, especially if the company name and logo are on display, are attractive, impressive moving billboards.

Disney and others that embrace the Super-Cleanliness / Orderliness culture feel they have one more marketing tool to impress their “guests” and customers. It is evident that there is a plan to keep the physical surroundings of the company attractive, orderly, and safe and that everyone within these surroundings takes care to keep it that way.

Interestingly, one’s perception of a dirty disorderly looking company is that no one really cares much about the company’s image and that their products and services might be and probably are not as good, not cared for, not as enjoyable, not as safe, not as durable and not worth as much. That may not be the case in actual fact, but as always, perception is reality.

Cleanliness and orderliness are not “Mickey Mouse.” Disney and other high-quality businesses that embrace this culture are very serious about it. Think of a Squeaky Super-Clean Disney experience when you are looking for your next advantage and you won’t be “Goofy!”

Super Companies – How Do They Do It?

Every industry has them… The Super Companies. They seem to do everything right, grow faster and out of proportion to their industry and their competitors.

I could name names here like Starbucks, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Southwest Airlines Netflix, and many more, but those household names, the ones that dominate the pages of business newspapers, magazines, and blogs are just the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands and thousands more in smaller marketplaces – regional and local businesses that are equally “Super” but on a smaller scale and it is these that I’m discussing here.

Their staff is courteous and helpful. Their advertising and promotions are interesting, engaging, and successful. Their physical plant is attractive, neat, and businesslike. They have a positive view on events. They grow and prosper in good times and don’t seem to suffer (much) in downturns… how do they do that?

So, let’s say that you have the ambition and the commitment to transform your business into one of these smaller, Super Companies. Where do you start? How do you get from where you are today to where you want to be tomorrow and the day after tomorrow?

The answer is that, in most of these Super Companies, there is someone with a vision leading the way. The vision includes how the company treats people (customers and staff), how the company positions itself in the marketplace and identifies itself (logos, style, media usage), how it demonstrates quality (packaging, warrantees, return policies, customer service and customer experience, making good on promises, etc.). The vision describes what that company can become and also maps the way to get there. They also know the company has to prove their commitment and quality every day to every person – client, prospect, staff, and vendor.

In your business, you need to become the visionary. Everything you do needs to be focused on that vision of the future. You will need to articulate and demonstrate that vision in a manner that inspires those around you to believe in and embrace the possibility that the vision is achievable so that every thing they do in the business is also focused on turning that possibility into reality. So, for a moment, close your eyes and create that dream. Ask two questions: “What would be possible if we were focused on committed to becoming a Super Company? What will we have to do today and every day in order to achieve it in the future?”

Super Companies have the vision, the will to do it, and they get the job done – that’s how they do it! Can you do it?

Can You Compete Against a “Pinky-Ring-Wearing-Salesperson?”

Do you know a stereotypical salesperson?  They go by various names like the “Gladhander,” The “Pinky-Ring-Fast-Talker,” the “Would-you-buy-a-used-car-from-that-person”.  Sure, everyone knows a few people that fit these descriptions and usually attempt to avoid them.  Brashness and persistence are not enough to succeed in sales.

With the advent of internet marketing, we’ve seen brashness and persistence taken to new heights.  That stereotypical salesperson has morphed and cloned, into a new, virtual, digital version that uses the net’s many tools – smarmy personal-looking emails and e-blasts, distracting banners, hijacking links, annoying guru-experts (I sure hope you don’t put me in this category), the “stereotypical” sales and too many other “secret strategies and tactics.”)

How do you compete against that never-ending electronic cascade of hype?

Products and services are complex and becoming more complicated every day.  Competition is larger, faster, smarter, and better.  It takes a new breed of salesperson to get the job done.  The “Salesperson-as-Consultant” can win confidence and sell more effectively than the “How ‘bout Those Bears” approach.

The “Salesperson-as-Consultant” approaches each prospect with a problem-solving attitude, asks “probing questions,” and listens actively to understand goals, concerns, attitudes, and needs.  After gathering that data, the “Salesperson-as-Consultant” works with the prospect, offering solutions (often arrived at with the prospect) rather than just fast-talking to shove a sale down the prospects’ throat.

Consultative selling requires that salespeople are knowledgeable about the services and / or products they sell, but also know and understand the needs, wants, concerns, fears of their targeted customer so they can actually answer technical questions, recommend options, and properly represent to vendor, the products, and the services being sold.  Those salespeople give great personal service also.  They follow up to insure their customers are satisfied.  They track shipments and production schedules if appropriate.  They understand that most things are, at some level, a commodity and that one of the key differentiators is confidence and trust they can earn by providing that level of service.  And, if something goes wrong, as it inevitably will some time, they take quick action to make it as right as possible.

The result is that the prospect is served betterand becomes more confident of the choices they make.  The salesperson makes more sales, but more importantly builds for the future based on the results of increased sales from a growing number of satisfied clients, ongoing relationships, and referrals.