How to reach beyond the prospect’s gatekeeper

What’s a gatekeeper?

Looking for an entrance into a VC, an angel group, a bank, a CxO for a sales opportunity, or any other entity?  There are always gate keepers whose job it is to filter out the inconsequential or inappropriate and allow through those with most promise.  That said, gate keepers can and do block some great opportunities before the decision maker even has a chance to use his or her expertise to evaluate.

So how do you reconcile this? 

Getting beyond the gate keeper and finding your way directly to the decision maker(s)?  Every salesperson with a bit of street history will resonate with this question.

The third-party relationship

One answer is to find someone with a relationship to the gatekeeper of the decision–maker.  LinkedIn might be good as a start, but beware.  Few of your contacts will be willing to use their valuable social or political capital helping you with a sales effort, and you will definitely strain your relationship with the intermediary if not a close friend.

Remember your closest opportunities.

[Email readers, continue here…]   Using your attorney or accountant to find who is close to the decision maker sometimes works. After all, you have a paying relationship with these resources, and asking for help is not considered a daunting request.  Do you have any contacts or friends within the target company?   An inside name is an excellent ice–breaking opportunity.

Here’s a gate-opener that almost always works.

Are you working with or selling to a particularly important competitor to your target customer?  Dropping that name will often immediately draw a response if the decision maker is curious or particularly competitive. Just remember, selling can be a strip tease in which you reveal very little in the name of confidentiality, making it appear to be valuable comparative information.  Let me reinforce this:  never reveal competitive information to gain access or advantage.  It is unethical and your target will immediately worry whether you might do the same someday.

Here’s an even better way.

Another way to approach the gate keeper directly is with a strategic idea or extremely profitable suggestion that he or she can make their own and enhance their standing within the company.  You must be willing to offer this freely, obviously ultimately connected to your product or service for implementation, but never claimed by you to be your idea.

Make careful use of your relationships and approach. 

One of my companies is in just such a position, able to offer an idea that is worth many millions and saving massive headaches but having to make the idea owned by the gate keeper.  It takes careful presentation, lack of ego, and a real focus on the implementation tactics to make this work.  But what power.   So, after all, do consider the gate keeper as a potential partner whose “commission” on the sale is social and political approval from above.  Or, if you can pull it off without alienation, don’t take the time to consider the gate keeper at all.

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How to “reel them in” to a trade show booth

We seem to be back to 2019 in the trade show world.  Shows that shuttered during COVID have reopened, even if traffic and attendance seems smaller so far, but rising. So, let’s spend a cycle on trade shows for the first time in years.

Wouldn’t it be magic if we could find one (unique to us) question to ask people passing the booth or table as they pass in the aisle of the trade show?  I asked several exhibitors that question recently, and received some surprising responses, along with tips for “reeling them in…”

Some surprising answers from persons in sales

“Is your mom OK?” was offered by one who said it always worked for him. A bit of a trap for some perhaps.  “Didn’t I see you looking for [an adjacent product or booth]?”  “One minute of your time and I have a gift for you,” said another.  But these all seem contrived, not at all comfortable for most of us.

A better response to consider

Another sales manager offered that he reads the first name on the badge at least ten feet before the booth entrance (a good start, as opposed to trying to stop someone already passing by.)  “Hi Dave,” he says. “You’d make my day with just two minutes of time.”  Better.

…and a mathematical plan to allocate time

[Email readers, continue here…]    One CEO explained to me that he tells his people to use the math to stay vigilant, even during slow times.  He states that a show with 4,000 attendees and a total of fifteen hours of exhibit time over three days (typically) will generate five people a minute walking by the booth.  “It would be a crime,” he states to his troops, “to turn away from the aisle and speak together even for thirty seconds for that reason.  Yes, traffic is not uniform. But that calculation makes a case.

Great advice from a corporate sales manager

Finally, my quest yielded another gem from yet another sales manager.   “Help them in, and if they are inappropriate or unqualified, help them out,” he states.  He explained that we should bring guests as far into the booth to the back or sides as possible.  A blocked entrance is an invitation for most to walk on by, he states.  And if you determine that the candidate is not appropriate, ask if you can help him or her find the object or company next on the list.  That way, he continues, you are helping your company and your guest at the same time while clearing the spot for another, more qualified candidate.

Trade shows are expensive. 

There are lots of important tactical tips to help you make the most of that expense and time.  Along with spending time on the strategic goals for the exhibit, the script or focus for each member of the team, and a chart of times for in–booth service, these are a good start toward planning a productive show.

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Are you really ready to examine your email open rates?

No–one needs to tell you that mobile readers now outnumber desktop readers for your

message.  A recent Experian marketing survey revealed that 52% of all email opens are from mobile devices, and that 38% of all clicks are from mobile devices.  Experian looked at three hundred brands and 21 billion emails – a few more than you or I have as a resource for our marketing intelligence.

“Responsive” emails and a test

So, the very first thing to be sure you cover is that all of your communications are responsive – able to display text, photos and video clips equally well on smartphones, tablets and desktops.   If you have not done so, let Google tell you whether your web site is responsive. Go to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile–friendly/ and enter your web address for a quick, free, analysis.  And treat the result seriously.

How about your emails? Same thing.  How many times do you have to open an email just to read the right side of the text or see the content, but delete the email instead just to avoid the “work” of that extra click?  Responsive emails allow any viewer pane to display the whole message in readable form.

What is your open rate? Click rate?

[Email readers, continue here…]    Now the big question:  If you have a readable format and excellent messaging, how is your open rate and more importantly your click rate?  Although both metrics vary widely between types of audience, you should work to exceed a six percent open rate and two percent click rate for your emails containing sales or marketing information.  Always, force a click to another web site to obtain the full information, to measure whether the reader engages or dismisses your message in short order.

If these several tips interest you, it is time to delve much more deeply into the world of detailed email marketing – through one or several of the excellent books on the subject.  Don’t waste your email budget with ineffective communication or hidden offers.

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Let’s not confuse big data with knowledge!

There’s a famous intersection in Tokyo, Shibuya Crossing, where thousands of people cross each day, seemingly in random directions. Here’s the test: try to follow one person in his or her journey. That would be like picking a piece of information from a maze. But it would be impossible to know much about that person from just a photo.

So, let’s dig further.

Say that you have a log file of every contact to your website. Or that you are a cell phone company with a multi–billion record logfile of every call made from every location to every number dialed using your network.  You can accurately state that you have big data at your fingertips.  But it is useless in this raw, usually unstructured form.

Add context to your data

Adding context to data takes this information and creates actionable knowledge. There’s even a new term for this –“ thick data.”  That’s data dense with information that is useful and can be mined with available tools to create actionable strategies.  Google analytics provides this information at no cost for websites and pages viewed.  Google uses proprietary tools to do this quickly, with resultant information available within a day.  But once you find a similar need for other types of logged information, you find yourself in the need for a data scientist or data engineer, and the costs climb accordingly.

Data can be invasive in the wrong hands

[Email readers, continue here…]   Such knowledge can be amazingly invasive in the wrong hands or if used without consideration for the result.  For example: What if American Express offered credit card details about purchases by competitors to a big box retailer?  Could Sam’s Club find which households were shopping at Target and even know the annual spend amount by family?  Would that be invasive – or just a great targeted marketing resource?  Would you be happy to receive coupons from Sam’s Club knowing that they found you and your shopping habits from your credit card company?

Strategic marketing

And yet, there are times when strategic marketing demands information that is readily available in files owned and controlled by you.  There are tools and a new generation of experienced data engineers ready to unlock this treasure chest of big data and turn it into actionable knowledge.  You’d be remiss to ignore the opportunity; one that even recent generations of management could not dream of gaining access.

A moment on terminology   Finally, let’s spend a moment on terminology.  Today we all hear of “AI” or artificial intelligence – used for everything from a few rules inserted into code to true self-learning systems.  Here, we used “big data” as our title.  But this term is getting old, and often is replaced with “data analytics” or “AI.”  The latter describe the evolution of accumulation through structuring the data through analyzing it as needed to use it to drive results, such as self-driving car systems or decision-based self-driven robotics or recommendation engines.  Hope this helps!

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Mailing lists, email marketing, errors, oh my!

Using old email lists for the first time is like eating really stale doughnuts.  The taste is pretty bad, and the side effects could be disastrous.

Strict rules about spam accounts

Email companies like Constant Contact, Mail Chimp and many others all have strict rules

they follow to avoid being caught in spam hell, with their servers blacklisted and worse.  Each has automated software watching over your uploads of new lists.  And each will block the use of any list they detect may be suspicious.

How many names to add to list?

If you have 4,000 names and add 12,000 more, that’s a red flag. Most services will automatically block you until you fill out a form and even speak to a representative.  They will ask where you got the list, and was it single or double opt–in?  Did you get the list from any third party? Is the list tested with opt–ins less than one–year old?

Opt-in process

[Email readers, continue here…]  Now the last question is a daunting one for any of us.  Which one of us has run any of our lists through the opt–in process each year with a special email to everyone on the list essentially telling them that they must opt–in (again) to continue receiving material from us?  I’ll bet the answer is “none of us.”  Yet that is what some of the mailing houses insist upon if they suspect a list is not generated by you directly through opt–in sign–ups.

Age of your lists

How about a list you have that is over a year old that hasn’t been used lately?  You can pay about a penny per name with a usual minimum of $100 to clean the list, which is quite effective. The list cleaning service will separate your list into five groups: verified (good name and not a trap), unknown (may be good but careful), undeliverable (bounced), unreachable (invalid domain), and illegitimate (known trap, monitoring domain, or black hole.)  The first group is the only safe one to trust.  Many of the common portals like AOL, Yahoo and MSN do not return a response to an email ping, leading all of those addresses to be classed as “unknown.”  And that’s a large part of anyone’s list.

Your mailing list company must protect themselves, and in doing so, protect you.  A large number of bounces or many unsubscribes in a single mailing are red flags that will be caught by the mailing company system.  Depending upon the size of the list in relation to the total size of all of your lists with that mailing company, your account may be placed on hold while you complete a form with detailed answers about where you got the names, if you got them yourself, and if you have verified them with an opt–in during the last year.

How do you grow your list?

So how do you grow a list if you purchase names from a service?  The first answer is in the form of a question.  Does the service guarantee that the names have been run through their verification filter in the last month or two?  If not, the bounce rate will be as much as one percent higher for each month the list has not been trimmed.  That amounts to big numbers in a short time.

The second answer is to divide the list into small bites that are less than a third the size of your present lists in sum, and feed those in slowly into the system.

Register your domain for spam protection

Another protection with an incremental benefit is to register your domain with emailreg.org, which will verify that your domain for mass emails is legitimate and not spam, then provide a whitelist of legitimate email servers with their domains – to reduce the chance of false positives while spam filtering.  Many ISP spam filters check the legitimacy of domains as one test before tossing your email into their spam filter.  The cost is a minimal annual fee, and may be worth it, especially if you use your “regular” email address for mass mailings and do not want to have normal email traffic challenged as spam.

The days of spam mailings to spam lists are gone, and we have all benefited by the enforcement of laws in many countries, especially in the United States.  Follow the rules and suggestions above, and your doughnuts will not be stale.  And you’ll not suffer a stomachache or worse.

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Here are tricks to find yourself on social media.

Finding your needle in the haystack

There is so much information being shot at us daily via social media streams that we should monitor and control that which pertains to our business – and do so with some level of expertise.

Start with a simple tool.

There are tools to inform you when your company name or personal name is mentioned.  Google Alerts can be set for any parameter and then be set to deliver your results daily or more often using Google.com/alerts.

Then add more complex listening posts.

You can do the same for the various social media and streaming sites at Mention.com or by subscribing to a tool like Tweetdeck.com.    You will be able to control (to a degree) the placement of your name in the rankings with a little work one step beyond search engine optimization.  Try a subscription with Brandyourself.com, where the monthly subscription is quite inexpensive and worth the price.

Proactively link outward from your site.

[Email readers, continue here…]    You might consider a special page on your website just for links to positive press and mentions.  Those links will improve your search results as well.   Measure your relative success with Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram and LinkedIn by searching with SocialMention.com, a site that ranks your mentions by source and as positive, neutral or negative.   Try registering in Hootsuite Insights and work to protect your brand with intelligent social listening, and monitoring trends.  Then try BuzzSumo.com a free tool to measure your engagement score with the major platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit and more.

Listening posts are all about your brand – personal or corporate. 

You need to know what people are saying and how often you are mentioned.  Your aim is to control the bad information, reinforce the good postings, and react to suggestions while you engage with your fans.

And it’s all newer than classic marketing texts.

None of this information about listening posts is available in classic marketing texts; it was not dreamed of even a few years ago.  You and your staff need to learn about these tools and engage aggressively with your fans in as many ways as possible.  More and more, this form of engagement will define your marketing success.

There is still a great place for traditional advertising.  But you will find that this new generation of digital natives communicates and reacts to buying opportunities using social media, recommendations, reviews and comments from influential sources.

So, be where they are.

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How powerful has new media advertising become?

We think of media advertising as either paid or free – placed by paying a fee or by a PR firm or by you at no placement cost, especially when you provide editorial content beneficial to the publisher.

But now there’s new media…

But this new era of Internet advertising has given rise to two more forms you should know and use in addition to the two traditional types above.

What resources do you already own?

Owned media comes from the databases you own, such as your company’s web site, email newsletters, profiles in social media, or apps you have created requiring registration or download.

And here’s the most powerful new media model.

And perhaps the most recent, most misunderstood, and most powerful media is that which is “earned” using social media ambassadors, bloggers, or influencers with massive followings.  These third parties have built a trusted following sometimes into the millions.  Many of these are not generally paid directly for their posts but earn reputation points and sometimes free goods for their efforts when including brand information in their postings. Others make impressing livings from these opportunities.

One of “my” companies learned and grew to spectacular size

[Email readers, continue here…]   One of the companies I am involved with started out by throwing expensive parties at events, giving free access to those influencers with massive numbers of followers, and showering these celebrity posters with free gifts, free food, and even free rooms.  That was quaint and unique at the time.

Since then, that company has grown to the largest influencer marketing company in the world, with over $100 million in campaigns, $2 billion in measurable sales and trusted by 60% of the Fortune 500 companies.

It’s a great business that didn’t exist a few years ago; and many national advertisers are redirecting funds into these “earned” resources as they find new ways to reach this generation of digital native customers, those who don’t generally respond to traditional advertising.

Expand your definition of advertising to include four, not just two methods of finding your potential customers.

 

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Question: Do you know three types of advertising?

If we never advertised, we’d never sell anything.  Right?

Perhaps right, but there are three major types of advertising, some requiring large outlays of cash, some not.

The types of advertising

First, you can advertise your brand so that people recognize it when they see it in later materials.  Second, you can make a call to action, using an ad to bring people to your place of offer, buy your services or product, or take advantage of a special incentive.   And third, you can invest in direct response advertising.  Here you make a pitch with a price attached and ask the target to respond immediately to take advantage of the offer.

Measuring your results

There is a vast difference in the way we can measure the results of our advertising. For example, direct response ads yield precise statistics, and the pay–off is easily measurable.  Yes, you might have made a more attractive offer with better results; but you can test direct response ads with various offers and price points to determine that optimum level.

The call to action

With a call-to-action ad, you have a more complex measurement problem, since people can come to an event or buy the merchandise by finding out through any of several sources other than the specific ad.

[Email readers, continue here…]   And with brand (or lifestyle) advertising, there is no way to directly measure success.  It is this kind of ad which must have prompted John Wanamaker to state, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Creating value, the old fashioned way

We angel and venture investors look to build brand and enterprise value, sometimes at the direct expense of profitability or even revenue.  A good manager of a business should work to create value the old-fashioned way, by working IN the business, not ON the business (as investors are prone to do.)

You should not succumb to the investor’s prodding unless there is plenty of money in the bank and an agreed upon time to seek a sale.  Advertise to build the business’s revenue and profits whenever possible.

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Sometimes your gut is the best you’ve got.

How I didn’t follow my own advice

Years ago, I led a deal and invested in a company that looked like it had lots of promise to disrupt the women’s clothing industry with special algorithms and an online store.  But something had bothered me from the very start – unsalable inventory.

An entrepreneur makes a claim that stretches comfort

You see, women’s clothing is subject to fashion changes so frequently that inventory becomes obsolete quickly.  Add to that knowing that there are three distinct buying seasons each year, and that this site was offering to mix and match sizes to fit, leaving orphan matching skirts and pants – and you can see why my concern.  The entrepreneur–founder explained this problem away by stating that the designers and manufacturers would ship direct after we’d grown to a large enough size.  I had my doubts but led the deal anyway.

But we overcame the fears and…

[Email readers, continue here…]   We raised six million from angel investors for this otherwise brilliant concept, and several first tier VCs followed with another thirty–two million over time.

In the end, you can guess the outcome.

And the company ultimately died a painful death.  It never got its corporate arms around the inventory problem, first among other issues.  And designers or manufacturers never did offer to ship direct.

Looking back at that complete financial loss, I keep thinking of my gut response to the brush–off about inventory being a problem.  To my gut response.

How about you and your gut feelings?

How many times have you had this nagging feeling that an answer to your question just didn’t seem right, but that you accepted the answer because the person offering it was closer to the problem than you were?  It is human nature to do so, deferring to the person more expert or more knowledgeable.

“What if…” we had seen this coming?

Over the course of these insights here and in my BERKONOMICS series of books and blogs, we explore the use of tools to help overcome this natural tendency.  Perhaps the greatest of these is use of the “what if” or “why” question streams.  I admit that I should have taken my own advice for that one and continue much further down the chain of “what if” or “why” questions, let alone doing more due diligence with a handful of designers and manufacturers.

Yes, sometimes your gut is the best you’ve got.  Listen to it!

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Go ahead. Revert to “old school” marketing. If you dare…

“Broadcast the message and they will come!”  “Segment my broadcast and I will have better response.”  Both of these time–honored methods of reaching our customers have worked for as long as there was print and radio–TV to get the message out.

The obsolete marketing message

And both have become increasingly obsolete as new channels of reach have evolved, allowing direct and personal contact with our potential customers, and better yet, free and near–free forms of marketing just for the asking.

Today’s marketing tools and methods

Today, if you are not targeting your marketing effort with predictive analysis and segment–focused communications, you are way behind others who do.   Big data analytics enable us to find and target just the right audience at the right time, something we could not do even a few years ago.  If you feel overwhelmed by this, there are experts waiting to serve you with new tools, ideas and channels you have never used, and which will open your eyes to powers that may shock you.

But the leaders of this new school practice customer–driven communication, personalized to the point of basing communication upon individual customer behavior.

A personal story

[Email readers, continue here…]   My spouse visited a website for women’s clothing, then followed it with a search for a service using a browser.  Immediately, seconds after her shopping effort, ads for that same online retailer surrounded her on the other site.  Those ads could have been for a competing online retailer looking to take business from the first. But either way, targeted marketing worked with her that day.  She bought again.

Interactive conversations with your customers

But the pinnacle of direct new–age marketing comes in the form of interactive conversations between company and customer, progressing from the contact through purchase through follow–up offer. Surely you’ve experienced this in your own online shopping efforts and perhaps have used that time–limited 15% discount to purchase something you may or may not have needed.

Old school or new school. Spend lots and not be sure of the return on investment; or spend much less and offer some of the savings to the customer.  Hmm.  Which is the win–win here?

Now, if you had a choice and the inclination to do something about it, which would you want to be?  Old school?  New school?

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