Someone recently used this term, Pre-Mortem, on a Linked In discussion I was following. It was meant to describe a way of looking at one’s business in order to identify potential weaknesses which could lead to trouble unless fixed. It is an interesting term and an interesting approach to trying to fool proof one’s business by stepping back from it and viewing it as an outsider might.

Another approach to fool-proofing your business is to set up a panel of a few marketers to act as competitors. Ask them to probe your operation for gaps which they could capitalize upon if they were running a competing brand. We did this a few times in my advertising agency when one of our clients was about to launch a new product. Our task was to find weaknesses in the product as conceived which competitors could take advantage of and, also, to identify opportunities which we had not yet thought of for exploding the growth of our brand.

These are interesting and valuable exercises to undertake particularly for a new company about to launch its products or services into the marketplace. Do you have any similar methods you would like to recommend for bullet proofing your business?

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How To Get Your Foot In The Door On That First Sales Call?

Even if you are experienced, making the initial sales call on a company on which you have never called before requires nerve, at the very least, and perhaps some other attributes as well, like confidence and a positive attitude. But what else? How should one prepare?

A group of us belonging to the Greater New Haven (CT) Chamber of Commerce are planning a seminar on this topic and are soliciting good ideas and fresh input. Here are some initial thoughts to stimulate your own suggestions:

Prepare your mental attitude and emotions beforehand: confidence, optimism, calmness and the determination to succeed eventually, even if not on this first attempt

  • Remember the purpose of the first call is to confirm who you should be talking to and to handle the call so as to start a relationship with the company, i.e. to develop a welcoming attitude towards your future contacts
  • Also, use this initial call learn something helpful about how (s)he likes to be approached …or how not!
  • Plan your conversation so as learn more about the company and the needs of the person you really want to speak to. Do not give the listener a canned presentation.
  • Remember that you are doing the customer a favor by offering your product or service ….he or she will benefit from doing business with you. Stay confident.
  • Keep focused on the long term opportunity for success, not on the possibility of an immediate turn down.

That is a start; what other thoughts and suggestions do you have? I am looking forward to “hearing” from you. Thanks!

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Don’t Stunt Your Growth; Keep Learning!

Inundated with offerings of free, online , web-exes, seminars, networking presentations? Feeling overwhelmed by the plethora of offerings designed to lure you into still another class or to sell you something? Think you can’t afford the time so you don’t respond to any of them and don’t partake at all? That is an easy point to come to, but it would be a mistake. With so many of us still trying to become truly proficient on line or awakening to the the fact that our business model may need to change to stay relevant in the changing world, it is incumbent upon us to take advantage of those offerings which seem to make sense, even as frequently as one or two every week. The key is to probe what the content will be and whether it will be of value. Send an email back to the sponsor; look the organization up on the web and try to contact it before you make the commitment in your calendar. But, when you realize that it could be worth your time, take the time. Be sure to accommodate a few every month: keep abreast of changes, become adept with social media, or become informed enough to decide they are not for you. Whatever your field, the world is changing and you need to know how to change your own business with it!

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Can "Down & Dirty" Research Be Trusted?

The issue of spending money on research is a difficult one for entrepreneurs and small companies on tight budgets but an important one. Some new entrepreneurs and small business owners intuitively believe that market research is not needed before launching their new product or service; others believe it will be cost prohibitive and not worth the expense; and still others hope they can get away without either making the effort or spending the funds despite its potential value. However, sounding out prospects’needs in advance can be critical even if funds are truly limited, especially on pricing and positioning issues. Can insight be gained through what is often referred to as cheap “Down and Dirty Research” or is the process so risky as to make the findings suspect?
Most marketing experts will probably take exception to “casual” or informal exploratory work and advise against it but maybe they haven’t faced the reality of being an underfunded entrepreneur. And, in my experience, while I don’t advocate it as the best way to proceed, an informal exploration can often help ferret out a promising way of talking about a new service or product, or, at worst, eliminate approaches which are truly flawed. Such “research” can be done inexpensively by developing a few alternate positioning statements (different ways of wording and rationalizing the benefits) and trying them out on 15-20 people who judgementally appear to be logical prospects. Friends and acquaintances who meet this criterion will have to suffice if money is not available to gather a random sample of likely purchasers for formal focus groups or a 1-on-1 study or to hire a trained group facilitator. Once this phase of the exploratory is completed, the favorite two or three statements can then be put into a web survey of 300 to 400 prospects, whose demographics seem to fit your likely target profile. Names and emails of “likely interesteds” can be obtained by visiting relevant trade shows, talking to retailers in the types of stores which might carry your product, chatting up ad sales people for the type of media where you might run an ad or through relevant Linked In industry groups to which one belongs. Costs can be kept down by using a Survey Monkey or Zoomerang type of online study to confirm the findings of your informal conversations. And while this isn’t the best way to do research, it strikes me as a step worth taking: it could prevent one from going off in a totally wrong direction…… a way to lower the odds of being on the wrong track before spending real money.

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The Value of Networking,…Online and Off!

If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time networking online through Linked In, Plaxo, Face Book and other social media. While it hasn’t paid off for me in terms of new clients yet, I bet it has for some of you and the difference may lie in the nature of the business we are in. Mine is not a transactional business; I only seek to work with 3-4 clients at a time a la a selective coach. Over the years all of my assignments have come from in-person referrals…from people who have come to know me through personal networking at Chamber of Commerce meetings and the like. But,if one is in a transactional enterprise involving the purchase and sale of commodity-type products or others which can be bought via e-commerce, the seller’s integrity is probably less of an issue…. the key is more in the reputation of the brand being offered. Here, online networking can perform wonders provided one is committed to it and has the discipline to participate every day. When you do,it will work, even without a face to face get together. However, for those of us in personal service businesses, while the ability to meet initially through online intros is important, we still need to establish mutual trust and confidence. Therefore we must augment the online intro with a “face to face” over a cup of coffee. But, whether as the source of an initial lead or an opportunity to complete a sale, the online world is here to stay as an all-important business development tool.

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Finding Leaders – Earning Leadership

My initial blogs have dealt largely with matters of greater concern to individual entrepreneurs than to small companies. Today, I am revising that a bit as I will address executive leadership within small but growing companies. Every such company no matter how small must have people on staff in whom it has confidence and who will be able to move up in responsibility as growth continues: new and future leaders need to be identified and recognized.

The characteristics that mark a truly good leader: integrity, vision, energy, commitment and many more, are widely agreed upon. But the one which has to come first is trustworthiness. It sometimes requires a long exposure to a colleague or subordinate in order to confirm that he or she is truly trustworthy. But, if a young executive wants to be considered for senior advancement, the C-Suite members must be convinced that he or she possesses this attribute to the nth degree and must also be sure that the candidate for promotion is trusted by his and her colleagues.

Well, how can one tell for sure? How does one earn this trust? Obviously, it requires maintaining confidentiality as appropriate and treating colleagues with respect and confidence. Further, one has to display the attributes referred to above: integrity et al. But it also requires being open with fellow staffers and to risk being vulnerable and willing to admit one doesn’t know the answers when that is the case. The upcoming leader must also be willing to answer questions fully and to share examples from his or her own past which fit the circumstances, thereby revealing the candidate’s humanity. This ability – to show one’s humanity and be open to a colleague’s concerns by revealing something of one’s self in his or her responses – will resonate and earn the trust needed to move ahead and be given further leadership responsibilities.

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Create A Niche If You Can!

Last month I heard Susan Friedman, a coach, author and speaker, make a really convincing case for creating, through unique positioning, a protective niche to fit your business into. Her well-taken point is that business is so competitive today with so many entrepreneurs and small companies active in virtually every category, that it is much easier to prosper if one can create a niche where there are only a few organizations in the same space. This not only reduces competition but means that your business will be more singular and more readily recalled than one in a category overrun with entries. And, if you can create a name or postioning line for your business which reinforces the benefits it provides, so much the better. Susan refers to people who are able to do this as “Nichepreneurs”. By adopting this kind of an approach, they often come to be thought of as experts in their field and thus are able to charge a premium for what they do. Sounds pretty smart to me! And, you can learn more on how to do all this by snapping up her book, “Riches In Niches – How to Make it BIG in a Small Market”.

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— What Do Eels Have to Do with Marketing?

Did you know that eels are disappearing as a cult food in the Netherlands? Don’t like eels? Don’t care? Well, even so, we can learn a lot from the North Atlantic eeling industry. You see, the eel market there is disappearing due to this desired delicacy having been overfished in that country. In fact,the NY Times reports that only 17 eel fishermen are still actively eeling today instead of 200 a generation ago. As a result, one Dutch company has developed a new product which crosses two types of catfish into a hybrid which the company is branding as Claresse, a substitute for both smoked and fresh eel. “Claresse is positioned as eel though not in presentation or flavor; the reaction from retailers has beeen very favorable”, says the company’s marketing director. Now I haven’t seen how this is being executed in advertising but the very approach is a huge endorsement of the opportunity imaginative positioning of a new product can provide and therefore an important lesson to all of us in marketing. For the Dutch, without doing so, they may not have “eel” to eat or a business from which to make a living!

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What is Tickling Your Business Bone?

I am taking a blogging break for a few days as I  do some research on which topics are of the most continuing interest  to entrpreneurs and owners/leaders of small companies in the current business envitonment. For example,  the value of pursuing the social media world as a business tool is one major consideration which I know is bothering a lot of you but there are other basic matters which deserve to be thought about even before that, e.g. some blocking and tackling of basic initiatives which all small organizations need to keep in mind and practice if they are to build their business. For me, one such item is  market research which my experience tells me is undervalued and underspennt……it is too often regarded as an unnecessary expense rather than an invaluable investment. I will comment on this further in future columns but what issue or problems are you facing these days which I might be able to help with? Understaffed and underfinanced to bring on board that second or fifth individual you desparately need? Finding you need to reach your audience more frequently but are not sure advertising will work? Something else? Comment here and I will try to help. Excelsior!

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Does Using Social Media Cause You to be Too Frenetic?

As I develop my blogging approach, I have been reading other blogs of established writers, marketing gurus and the like. I notice that many of their blogs ( I like to think of them as columns one might find in an old-fashioned newspaper) contain link after link either to orther blogs  and materials or back to their own web site pages. While I understand the optimization value of the backlinking,  I also find it distracting to be frequently interrupted by all these links. It is like a book I just finished where almost half of every page consists of foot notes which the author thinks would add to my understanding but, gee whiz Mr/Ms Author, I need to finish reading your sentence first so I know your complete thought.  Also, this process of constant linking adds to my daily freneticism when, in order to feel really productive, I need to understand the main gist of the blog and have the time to digest it, comment on it or forward it to a colleague for whom it will be of interest. I guess my concern is that we are all moving so fast we do not have – or take – enough time to think about what we have just learned…….instead, we Just Do It, and, maybe that is sometimes at our own expense.

Does anyone else feel that way?

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