Tuesday, February 28, 2012

¿Are you an entrepreneur and don’t like selling?

¿An entrepreneur and don't like selling?
What do you think of a "sales person"? What is for you a "seller"? I bring this subject up today because I’ve been surprised to meet with entrepreneurs and business owners who appear to have some kind of "strange feeling" in regards to the selling issue, to convince others about their projects or ideas, and they even come to say things like "I am not a sales guy "as if "selling" was something inherently wrong.

While I was documenting myself before writing this article, I found on the web (this infinite space we call "collective knowledge") a lot of definitions about the word "sale", all of them referring to the process of transferring a product or service from the hands of those who manufacture it, to the hands of the final user or consumer, in exchange for something, usually money.

Somewhere along the way, the concept of "selling" was restricted to a specific area of ​​knowledge, perhaps marketing, advertising maybe, who knows? Perhaps at that same point, and thanks to the wrong-doings of many people throughout centuries of history, the concept began to be closely related to terms such as "cheater", "deception", "snake charmers" and, well you know where the story goes.

And I’m not to disagree with you if you have this perception, or simply do not identify completely with the subject. I also felt the same way when, as a teenager, I faced my first job as a salesman, but then, afterwards, during my college education in advertising and marketing, and throughout my life, I have had the opportunity to name everything by its proper name.

Selling is a intention-driven communication process.

If you were to ask me to define the word "selling” I would necessarily have to refer to a way of communicating an idea convincingly to another person. I have an idea, which I think is valuable, important or really good, and I want to convince you about my point of view, and want you to share it.

As you can see, it’s not simply to communicate, but to convince, to persuade you that my idea is valid, important and worth being taken by you  into consideration.

The key element here is "the need to convince", to "persuade" the other person, your partner. That is why it’s an intentional communication, one that has a specific purpose that distinguishes it from the communication we use simply to share something without an intention.

It’s such an old thing that we sometimes forget its true meaning.

From the day that the snake convinced Eve to bite the apple, from that moment on the art of selling was born, in this case selling an idea. And an idea that was so properly sold that not only Eve took a bite, but she invited Adam who also bit and the rest is very well known by the rest of us.

And thereafter, history is full of anecdotal events that refer to ideas that were properly sold, such as that the Earth was flat, or that aliens had invaded our world.

After all, ideas that were born in the mind of someone who was so deeply convinced that his idea was so good that he necessarily had to convince, persuade his peers to think the same, and then managed to do so.

Is selling an inherently bad thing to do?

As long as the intentions are genuinely good, the act of selling is good, because it’s about a person who conveys to someone else an idea that will be for the benefit of the later. If I manage to convince you to quit smoking, for example, I'm doing something good for you.

If we refer to a product or service it continues to be the same: This is something that ultimately is going to be for the benefit of the final user, or the consumer.

Now, the art of selling began to lose it’s real meaning when intentions started to lean towards the wrong side, when you wanted to convince someone that something was really good, when it wasn’t so, by resorting to manipulating information, hiding things or simply lying

Hence the bad taste associated with the subject of "selling" or "sales guy". Because we have the feeling that everyone who wants to sell us something, will cheat on us, will make us sign papers without knowing what the tiny print says, or will end up tricking us.

It isn’t the same to sell, than to sell your soul to Evil.

Sometime ago I read this sentence and it got deep in my heart. The art of selling in itself is a good one, necessary for your company so that you can succeed, that you can communicate your ideas convincingly to your employees, partners, friends and clients, provided that you haven’t sold your soul to Evil.

As long as your intentions are genuine, authentic and you can communicate them in a transparent and honest way to your partner, or audience, then there’s no problem.

If, at any time, you realize you’re starting to resort to using odd tactics to convince others about what you say, whether it’s to sell an idea, product or service, you may be confusing the concept and starting to turn into one of those characters that have done such a strong damage to an activity that is so special for business and life itself, as the art of selling.

Related post: It's not a golden rule, but works great: Honesty and transparency.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Customers: Past, present and future of your business.

Customers: Your past, present & future.
A few days ago, commenting with Luis Reyes, a dear friend who has became a source of inspiration for me, about an article published on this blog, titled "Corporate reputation and sales reps’ responsibility", Luis said to me: "Customers are our past, present and future."

And, as always, jokingly I told Luis that it was quite true, because our customers shaped our business' trajectory, your business'.

I'd like to share with you my thoughts on the subject:

• Your customers are in fact your past, for they already lived the experience of buying your product or hiring your services. It's them who can influence your brand new customers through their thoughts, comments or complaints. If you did a good job with them and you were're able to deliver your customers a great experience, they'll then be your best source of referrals. And you know the value of a client who positively refers you with others.

• Obviously, customers are your present: and I do believe that goes without saying. Customers are your bread and butter, day after day, with their money you pay your payrolls, keep suppliers under control and fatten your shareholders. While money from your customers flows, you are happy. This one you really need to digest because it's a hard-to-understand reality for many businesses owners: Businesses grow because they have customers, nothing more. If there are no customers who buy, there is no business growing. But we already talked about earlier on. If you want to read it, find the link at the bottom of this post.

• Finally, your customers are your future: Because you will continue to work if they continue buying from you, unless you can find a way to finance your business without depending on your customers buying. And as far as I know, that only works with nonprofit organizations, and I don't think your business is one of them, and even then...

The role of your customers in your business' commercial cycle.

After all, the point that I'm trying to emphasize is the tremendous importance of your customers in the life cycle of any product, whether we look back in the past as well as if we project it into the future.

If you have done your best effort in developing a strong satisfied customer policy in your company, ensuring that those who already bought your product or service are enjoying a truly positive experience, one that's memorable, and trying to do the same with those customers you're doing business with today, I can tell you you're doing things properly.

Unfortunately, it also happens that for many companies, customers are just numbers or files, and they focus their marketing strategies to simply increase sales no matter what, hammering them down, using any kind of marketing, advertising and communication strategies, both on social networks and traditional media, legal and not that legal.

Your customers are much more than numbers.

If it's your case, please consider this: your customers are much more than numbers. They are the past, present and future of your business, whether you understand it or not. Take the opportunity today to offer them the best of your company and its product.

This way you can build a strong, positive reputation for your brand, a large subscriber base for your business and ensure a better future overall.

"Live the present, because the past is gone and you cannot do anything about it, and the future is uncertain, and no one knows what will happen." However, in business, you still profit on what you did on the past, and definitely can do a lot to build a brighter future for yourself and your company.

And of course what you do today, will also be the seed of what you collect in the future. It looks like a tongue twister but it holds true as a rock.

To wrap it up then, in your company, are your customers simply numbers?

Related article: Can a business exist without customers?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Social Media: Reaching the "Critical Point".

Reaching the "Critical Point"
Have you ever seen a big airplane – let’s say an Airbus 340, for instance – running down the runway for takeoff? Have you noticed how, during the beginning of its rollout, the big airplane appears to move really, really slow, to start speeding up little by little and, all of a sudden, start moving faster, then lifting its nose and start climbing up to the sky to reach speeds of up to 500 kts/hr?

For me it’s always been an impressive sight which clearly demonstrates the fruit of human ingenuity.

The explanation is very simple:
  • When the takeoff roll gets started, the thrust generated by the four powerful turbines on the A340 is used to move the plane, only to overcome the resistance to movement caused by the weight of the aircraft sitting on the ground, which are a few thousand pounds.
  • Once this resistance disappears, all thrust available is used to push the airplane forward, reaching impressive speeds.
  • The point where you switch from "pushing" to "speeding-up" the aircraft occurs at a specific speed and is the "critical point" during the takeoff roll. If you raise the airplane’s nose sooner, it won’t climb up. If you do it later, may be there won’t be runway enough for takeoff. It's a simple matter of physics.

How does this apply to your “social media” marketing plan?

It’s surely not your case, but many entrepreneurs want, or need, their businesses to take off once and for all, produce money, be profitable and make them happy, and they embark on social media networks with these expectations. However, they fail to understand that, for their business to takeoff, they must have gone through a previous step: must have reached their "critical point" in their own takeoff roll.

Have you ever launched an email campaign and surprisingly received a really low response rate? Did you make a business page on facebook only to realize that interaction with your "fans" is very little and no one comments on your posts? Or have you lost the patience while seeing the number of your Twitter followers grow very slowly?

Don’t throw in the towel just yet. The problem with your social media marketing efforts is that you haven’t reached, as a company, product or brand, your "critical point" for takeoff.

Let’s start by the beginning: A properly planned strategy.

If you’ve followed the recommendations given by many specialized portals for the development of your social media marketing campaign, your strategy will be focused primarily on two elements: your customers and the development of relevant content that you share with them through the platforms of your choice.

If you haven’t done so, you’re setting yourself for failure: It will definitely take a longer time for your social media marketing plan to reach its "critical point" for takeoff or it might not reach it at all, which is worst. As in the case of an aircraft, if you don’t pay attention to details prior to takeoff, the airplane will probably not get off the ground. Again: it’s a matter of physics.

Unlike planes, where the "critical point" for takeoff is calculated mathematically, in business, nobody can say with certainty and numerical accuracy when you've reached this point.

How do you know you've reached your "critical point”?

Let’s say you have done your homework while creating your social media marketing plan. Then there are some key elements that will indicate you’re approaching your “critical point” for takeoff.

These elements are:
  • The content you post is commented on by your customers, suppliers and friends. This means that you’ve been able to develop a "social face" for your company, connected with your audience, created a bridge that lets you talk with them and the content you are posting is relevant.
  • Your followers and "fans" base is growing at a steady rate, naturally, or what is called "organic growth" without you having to be out there asking or pressing people in subtle ways to follow or like you.
  • Your customers use all available platforms to communicate with you, either directly through your website, email, facebook, twitter, Google + or any platforms that you’ve set up. Caution: It doesn’t mean that they communicate with you through all of them at the same time, just in case you were wondering.

From this moment on, you can say you've reached your "critical point" for takeoff. Then you’ll begin to see your audience growing naturally, day after day, and you might already have begun to see economic results, or money coming back, which at the end is what really matters.

However, you must have a little patience. A marketing campaign on social networks isn’t the magic wand that's going to turn your company into the # 1 business in the list of the most successful companies in the world overnight. But surely it will help your business grow and develop on a positive way.

Are you going to wait for things start coming your way or are you giving up?

Related article: I want to be in social networks, but don’t know where to start with.
Photo: Flickr - Airbus 340 taking off

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

It’s time to grow: When it’s not good to wear too many hats

¡It's time to grow!
Perhaps you are one of the many entrepreneurs who started the business of their lives wearing many different hats at the same time.

In fact, it’s very common among new entrepreneurs to concentrate on their shoulders a wide variety of tasks, not just those for which they are formally trained, but many others for which they simply have a vague training or depend solely on using their common sense.

Back in Miami when we started with our signs and lettering business, we did everything at home, both my wife and I. And it was ok. It worked fine. We had the equipment we needed, promoted our products, went out to do cold calling to attract new customers, we did our own installations, put together the necessary paperwork for filling our taxes, took care of the billing, purchasing of materials, and indeed, it was a very enriching experience.

You learn a lot wearing many hats.

However, as our business grew we came to understand that wearing many hats brought along very good things, and others that were simply not so good.

Which were some of the good things?

  • You learn a lot when you have the opportunity to get involved in all areas of your business: it’s a knowledge that will help you better manage your business and keep you from making the kind of mistakes made by those who don’t have an idea about areas directly related with their industry.
  • It’s an extraordinary experience to take the pulse of your own growth, attract new customers; witness every day how you’re generating more work orders, asking for more materials, printing more bills, depositing more money in the bank ... in short, it’s really motivating.
  • You can fully develop your personal and professional talents, demonstrating your abilities in different business areas.
  • Earn more money, or we should rather say, spend less money because what you produce is divided among fewer people.

What about the "not so good” things?

  • You don’t use your time effectively: If you haven’t noticed, to do all things without focusing on one at any time, dilutes your effort. You have to recognize that the time you're devoting to accounting, it’s time you’re not using to bring in new customers, to put it on the simplest way possible.
  • You can’t lend your service more efficiently: And is directly related to the previous one. When you do everything yourself, you're not investing your time in being better prepared for your job, but using what you already know to get the job done. As you move along the road, the quality of your service deteriorates because you don’t have the opportunity to keep up with your profession.
  • This inevitably leads to stagnation: you're so busy doing so many things that can’t even stop to think or plan ahead your next steps and many times it happens, don’t even have another person who might serve as your counterweight in the decision-making process.

It’s then time to grow: delegate tasks.

The first step in any growing business, one that is moving forward, is the need to have more people to carry out everyday tasks. Whether you hire people to work within your own company or you outsource the additional services you need, your business is growing.

As you begin to delegate functions to remove from your shoulders some of the burden, you'll find wonderful things start to happen:

  • You have time to think, plan ahead and dive deeper on the work you are doing. If you do the selling, you can spend more time developing new customers, if you do the purchasing, you can put in order all the goods you have in the storage, if you do the accounting, you can spend an entire morning updating yourself on this new regulation which directly affects your next tax return.
  • Along with the time you now have to delve into the area you are devoted to, you will notice that you are much more productive, not only in quantity but in quality. Now you don’t have to spend your time on five different tasks at the same time, but focus all your efforts in doing the one you do, the best way possible.
  • You create a working environment, and if you have an open mind and really like team working, you can now discover you're not the only who can generate great ideas.

It’s from this point on, when your business starts to navigate driven by a true entrepreneurial spirit. The wearing-many-hats-at-the-same-time thing is fine, but only when you are just starting and your business is really a small one.

Do you feel that you're not getting done all the things you should, that you don’t have time enough to do all the things you have to do? Perhaps it is now time to grow.


Related post: Seriousness and discipline: Things you can learn from the army.