LinkedIn Special Report: B2B Selling in the COVID era

In our uncertain times, for-profit organizations have elevated selling, the means by which revenue is generated, to the highest priority. Sales revenues are the life blood of a business and enable its survival. As a result, sales professionals are under significant pressure to identify, connect with, engage and bring in new clients, as well as obtaining additional business from existing clients.

No surprises there. Making sales is the role of sales reps. It’s just that thanks to COVID, the playing field has undergone a seismic shift. Once-thriving industries, most notably restaurants, hotels and fitness, have been greatly diminished. Commercial real estate sales and leasings are staggering, as legions of white collar professionals cobble together DIY offices and work from home. How can sales representatives reach prospects when they’re usually no longer in the office? How can they introduce themselves and their products and services when they can no longer meet prospects face2face?

Virtual technology has solved most of the communication problem, but virtually enabled conversations do not make it easy for sales reps to meet and lay the groundwork for building new relationships. Furthermore current or previous clients, who now work from home, are often overwhelmed as they strive to meet the new and growing expectations of their jobs. Receiving a request from a sales rep to schedule yet another videoconference call does not spark joy.

LinkedIn has issued its fourth annual State of Sales Report after interviewing some 1,000 B2B buyers and sellers in several countries, including Brazil, Canada, France, the UK and the US. Here are some key takeaways.

Good data matters

To clarify and justify their buying decisions, the report found that 49 % of prospective B2B buyers feel that objective data is a required element of a sale and data- driven decisions have grown in popularity in the COVID era. Data adds value. Sales professionals need only to determine which metrics matter to the prospect?

Doing some homework and asking a few questions is the way to learn what information will persuade your prospect. Now when you send an email to request a videoconference call, you can tempt your prospect with a couple of data tidbits that signal you understand what matters. Now you present yourself as being a problem-solver. Present some data and ask what other information will be useful.

Getting to know your prospect as you get to know their business challenges and objectives is part of engagement. Demonstrate that you’re not just trying to make a sale, you’re trying to help the prospect do solve, or avoid, a problem.

Be a problem-solver

Problem-solving emerged as an attribute that 47% of B2B buyers value highly. As always, effective selling means knowing the customer. One way to engage prospects is to ask about their business and learn as much as politely possible about why and how your product or service could help the organization achieve important objectives. In short, what do they really need to do and how can you help them get there?

Furthermore, you might ask prospects how they did what they need to do before you and your product or service came along? Now you’ll pick up some useful intel on competitors and know how to position your offering as superior, as you assume the role of problem- solver.

When sellers focus on client objectives and provide meaningful data it’s possible to position oneself as a problem-solver, if not as a trusted adviser and collaborator for the prospect. In this way B2B sellers earn trust. For 75% of B2B buying decision-makers, the amount of trust that they have for a seller is the number one factor that leads a buyer to do business with a particular company.

Expect change

In sum, 70 % of survey respondents feel that leading through change is now a required competency for sales managers and is more important than it was five years ago. Sales leaders are wrestling with the question of what the change in the business environment means for their organization and their team. In a separate LinkedIn survey of sales managers conducted in March 2020, 55 percent of the 200 respondents feared that a decrease in their sales pipeline is inevitable.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Over tea, Moroccan Berbers (Amazigh) build a relationship and discuss the potential sale of a rug.

Meeting New Clients When They’re Virtual

As we journey through the COVID business landscape, B2B product and service providers have mostly found that the process of selling to their current clients has successfully been transferred to virtual methods, that is, videoconferencing and the telephone. But the biggest shortcoming of virtual communication is revealed when the goal is to meet and cultivate new clients.

As business (and education, government, fitness, worship, et al.) has transitioned to remote functioning one glaring truth has emerged— it’s much easier to shift existing relationships into virtual mode than it is to create new relationships, business or personal, by way of Zoom. That’s especially true in B2B sales. While many Freelancers and other business owners and leaders have directed resources toward strengthening existing client relationships, facilitating new client acquisition has folks wringing their hands.

It’s been conclusively demonstrated that it costs at least five times more time and money to acquire a new client than it costs to maintain a current client, but it remains a fact that every business must put into motion a client acquisition strategy. New clients represent the potential for future growth and they are an essential component of a healthy business ecosystem.

The problem is, relationships are more easily created during face2face interactions and we’re just not able to meet people anymore! The lockdown has either closed or severely restricted nearly all public gathering spaces. Video and voice calls keep us connected, albeit at a distance, but those relationships are in many cases already established.

So our question of the day is—-how can a business effectively grow its client list when access to new prospects is unexpectedly limited? Let’s consider some alternatives to the once customary networking formulas.

Low hanging fruit and a system reboot

Mine your client data, knowledge and relationships to discover how you might persuade those with whom you’ve been doing business to do more business. Find the low hanging fruit on a tree familiar to you. In some instances, it may be necessary to reboot certain relationships if clients were forced to cease or curtail operations due to the shutdown and its aftershocks.

Create reasons to contact clients whose organizations were adversely but not fatally impacted, perhaps by emailing COVID business resource information as a conversation starter. While trading emails or calls, you’ll be able to inquire about the location of where business is now conducted—in the office or from home.

Ask those clients how they’re responding to the COVID environment and listen carefully for a way, however small, you can help get his/her company up and rolling again. You may rewarded with a handful of billable hours as conditions improve. This strategy is working for me, BTW.

Conversely, some businesses are experiencing growth during the pandemic and you should make it a point to identify those organizations and include those for whom your products or services can be a fit in your marketing efforts. Maybe you can get a referral from a friend, family member, or client?

Encourage referrals

Referrals confer to you the golden status of being considered a known and trusted quantity. Other than a Super Bowl ad, there is no better endorsement for your business than a referral. People who read reviews of books, movies, restaurants, or hotels are in reality searching for a business whose customers give it good referrals.

Create the conditions for good word-of-mouth about your service by excelling at superior customer service at every client touch point. Present a 360 degree pleasant and efficient experience from the intuitive navigation of your website, the relevance of your content marketing posts, to your follow-up and willingness to go the extra mile to provide the necessary solution, to your project proposals and invoicing.

Give your clients lots of good things to say about doing business with your organization. Ask them to spread the word. On client invoices, offer a 15% or so discount on their next invoice if a referral is made and a sale results.

Case studies and testimonials showcase how clients feel about your finest work. They are a form of referrals and business owners and leaders are advised to include such valuable endorsements on the company website and on social media platforms.

Get found with Inbound Marketing

Revisit your understanding of the ideal clients for your company’s products or services. Do you know who the decision-makers is? Do you know who is likely to influence the decision-maker and other important stakeholders? When writing your content, it’s imperative to know to whom you are speaking.

With a heightened sense of your ideal client in mind, evaluate, refine and expand your company’s online presence and popularity with content designed to fill the sales funnel with prospects who have authority, who make decisions, who have influence. Create email marketing subject lines that catch the eye and resonate with those prospects. Align your white papers, blog, newsletter and case studies to address goals and questions that are meaningful to your prospects. Appeal to what motivates prospects to take the leap and do business with you. Post content to Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook to expand your reach.

Finally, why not experiment with developing relationships through online communities? Investigate LinkedIn groups, for example, and search for one or two that seem like a good fit. Follow conversations and learn what active members discuss. When you feel ready, pose a question or respond to one. Whenever you participate, your LinkedIn contact info is accessible to interested parties and the seeds of follow- up are planted.

The sales landscape has changed for the time being, but the fundamentals of selling remain. If your product or service solves a problem, provides a solution, for a potential buyer, if a price can be agreed upon a sale will be made. Pursuing introductions and attempting to build relationships with new prospects in the virtual space is not without challenges but it also brings certain advantages. Geography is no longer a barrier.

Moreover, most prospects begin the buying journey online, searching Yelp and other rating sites to find out who can and cannot be trusted, cruising through social media and visiting websites that appear in the top 10 of their text or voice searches (those would mostly be big companies, for those wondering why there is no mention of SEO here).

Buyers are acclimating to the virtual space, becoming more accepting of the new normal and what it entails. The scope of relationships hatched in the virtual space may not be quite what we’re accustomed to, but I predict that both buyers and sellers will adapt as necessary to do business.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Athena, a special guest character on Lost in Space (CBS-TV 1965-1968) appeared in season 2, episode 16, of the series on January 4, 1967.

Pandemic Sales Tactics

The New World Order ushered in by the coronavirus has forced all Freelancers and business owners and leaders to learn to be resilient and to steward our organizations in ways that are forward-thinking and flexible. Selling the company’s products and services to generate revenue has taken on an even more central role. There is heightened recognition that the roles of marketing, branding, public relations, advertising, networking and social media are to encourage sales, to attract qualified prospects and convert them to customers.

Now that the COVID era is here, whatever your company previously did to promote sales must be adjusted to get in step with the new reality. As of this writing it appears that we won’t return to “business as usual” anytime soon, if ever. Consider this the wake-up call to update the selling protocols at your organization and prepare to compete more effectively in today’s marketplace.

Selling is the purpose

As noted, it is no longer possible to put the components of a company’s sales process on automatic pilot. Nurturing the brand, revving up the social media presence, strategic networking, targeting of content marketing posts and the like are all relevant but bear in mind that those activities are the “way to the way.” The way a company survives is by making sales. The purpose of a company’s sales process is winning business and that function is the real-time measure of all your imaginatively conceived business strategies.

It’s vital that the sales team (that means you, Freelancer Friend and small business owner) the information and other resources needed to sell effectively, because there’s less business available now.

Start by learning what your clients fear and what they’re prioritizing, in response to how COVID has impacted their organizations. You have likely been in touch with your current clients at least once or twice since the shutdown and subsequent (partial) reopening but if you haven’t done so, send a New Year’s card and follow it up with an outreach themed phone call or email—you’re just checking in to see how the client is doing. How’s business? How are they managing? Listen well and empathize.

Deliver what customers value now

Dive into the social media accounts of past, current and prospective clients to get intel on how they’re communicating with their customers and discover what is being promoted now. The goal is to obtain insights into as many specific reasons as possible that might incline clients and prospects to do business with your company rather than the competition.

You want to understand the issues that may drive customer decisions. This is also your method to discover any obstacles that could potentially impact the use of your products and services, for better or worse. Remember that COVID has collapsed some industries and revitalized others.

Based on what your investigation shows, forecast the perhaps now revised client needs that your organization can address, what new (or ongoing) problems you can help clients resolve. Then, build a strategy to capitalize on what you’ve learned and repackage your offerings.

Map the new sales process

Get used to it, your sale will most likely take place by videoconference. You’ll be at an advantage when sales calls are with clients you already know. When meeting with new prospects you’ll have to work a little harder, but that is always the case. Regardless, do yourself a favor and hire a videoconference tech for three hours to set up your call and monitor it in progress, and allow yourself to focus on how to use your platform’s technology to communicate and connect with your prospect and sell.

Consider presenting a (video) show and tell for a product sale or a pre-taped video testimonial featuring a happy client who’s had a good experience with the product or service you’ll discuss (client success story/ verbal case study). Call in a guest speaker on your team who is an expert on using the product (engineer or the product manager) to provide additional information, take questions and reassure the prospect. If selling a B2B service, a few slides that show the ROI would also help the sale.

Perfect the sales experience

If the prospect is working at the office, or if you happen to know his/ home address, why not add a flourish and have lunch or coffee and pastry simultaneously delivered to the prospect and yourself? You and your prospect can still enjoy a meal together, relax and begin to bond, even if remotely. Morning meetings could benefit when coffee + is delivered at the start, but lunchtime and other afternoon meetings will probably be best served when food is delivered at around the half way point.

Thoughtful planning that keeps the client at the center of the sales process will guide your organization to refocus its sales process in ways that benefit client expectations and the experience. Relationships and referrals that will set your venture on an upward trajectory begin here, with how you manage the sale.

Thanks to all of you for reading my posts! YourHappy New Year,

Kim

Image: Actress Myrna Loy (R) sells cigarettes to actor William Powell (L) and his wife Diana Lewis at a 1940 Franco-British War Relief charity event held at the Cocoanut Grove supper club in Hollywood.

Client Gifts: 10 Under $25.00

It’s that time of year again. The sales and marketing bonanza known as The Holidays are fast approaching. In this most unusual year, when many Freelancers and other business owners have had little to no contact with our clients since March, thanks to the shutdown, the December holidays represent a hugely important relationship maintenance opportunity. This is our big chance to reach out to clients without looking either pushy or desperate and reminding them that we’re still relevant.

Sending holiday gifts and/ or cards to clients with whom you’ve worked in the past 3 – 5 years is one of the smartest and most effective marketing campaigns that can be run. Holiday outreach positions you and your company as a class act. The company name, and by extension its products and services, lands directly in front of decision-makers in a most pleasing way. Your acknowledgement reminds clients of a great working experience as you create yet another great experience by showing that you’re thoughtful.

You can’t lose. Not only that, you might get some work again when business picks up. Holiday shopping must start early this year. Shipping, which has grown exponentially during the shutdown, will be much more busy during the gift giving time. More holiday gifts will be shipped this year than the industry has ever seen.

Please see the 10 gifts below. I recommend shopping no later than December 6 (for domestic shipping) and sending cards by December 10. Remember that mailing to a client who’s working from home will be complicated by the need to transport items from client’s office to client’s home and the mechanism to do that probably doesn’t exist at this time. Call office building concierges before Thanksgiving and ask about mail and package deliveries.

1. Make working from home a little cozy with a warm throw blanket $20.

https://www.wayfair.com/decor-pillows/pdp/gracie-oaks-aronson-patterned-reversible-sherpa-fleece-throw-w002716118.html

2. Find the AirPods in their case when they’re needed. $25.

https://riflepaperco.com/clear-wildflowers-airpods-pro-case

3. Luscious chocolates from Serenade Chocolatier, a favorite place $25.

Fall 16 Piece Selection

4. Pet lovers will adore the Tiny Tent, a clever item that gives cats and small dogs a place to play hide’n’seek or take a nap while Mom and Dad are working from home $20.

https://www.rei.com/product/162912/tiny-tents-tiny-tent?cm_mmc=aff_AL--192425--243833-_-NA&avad=243833_a1dd2bc41

5. A personalized post-it note cube brings style to a utilitarian desk item $17.49 (sale price, $24.99 regular).

https://www.personalizationmall.com/Personalized-Sticky-Note-Cubes-Personally-Yours-p11550.prod?sdest=dept&sdestid=1098&sdest=CheckOut&sdestid=9&storeid=9&categoryId=1098

6. Wild, wacky, luxurious soap and lotion gift sets from Lush $14.95 – $24.95.

https://www.lushusa.com/shop-by-price/gifts-under-25/

7. Plants bring beauty and healing energy to every space. The Hedgehog Aloe requires bright, indirect light, no drafts and water every 7 – 10 days $19.95.

Hedgehog Aloe Plant

8. Home cooking is more fun when the chef wears a 100% cotton apron by Ayesha Curry, cookbook author, Food Network chef and wife of basketball star Stephen Curry. In aquamarine or burgundy $19.95.

https://www.kafhome.com/licenses/ayesha-curry/aqua-crossback-canvas-apron-adult.html

9. A dollop of ripe fruit sparked with a cocktail spritz creates a yummy jam condiment your clients will love $24.

https://www.uncommongoods.com/product/cocktail-jam-sampler

10. COVID evenings at home become more satisfying with soft lighting provided by candles shaped like wine corks $20 (12 candles).

https://www.uncommongoods.com/product/wine-cork-candles-set-of-12

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark

Ask Better Questions

“Be a good listener,” Dale Carnegie advised in his 1936 classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. “Ask questions the other person will enjoy answering.”  Effectively asking questions is a big part of a leader’s job. Good decision-making is based on information we obtain by asking the right questions. Making a sale, including handling objections, is also supported by effective questioning.

Many of us hesitate to ask questions, unfortunately. Sometimes it’s because we don’t want to be perceived as intrusive. Other times,  we worry that our questions may be viewed as silly and make us appear incompetent.  On the other hand, one might assume that more information is not necessary.  In every instance, an opportunity to obtain valuable information is lost.

Alison Woods Brooks, an Assistant Professor at the Harvard Business School who teaches Negotiation and is affiliated with the Behavioral Insights Group and Leslie K. John, Associate Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, understand that effective questioning is a skill that can be honed to make our conversations more productive.

The two offer guidance on the best type of questions to ask, tone of voice to use, the sequence of questions and how to frame the questions.  The best approach for a given situation depends on the goals of those in conversation.  Is the discussion  cooperative (e.g., relationship-building or accomplishing a task together) or  competitive (the parties seek to uncover sensitive information from each other or serve their own interests), or some combination of both? Brooks and her research team employed human coding and machine learning to identify four types of questions:

  • Introductory questions (“How are you?”)
  • Mirror questions (“I’m fine. How are you?”)
  • Full-switch questions (change the topic entirely)
  •  Follow-up questions (solicit more information)

Follow-up

Although each question type flows naturally in conversation, follow-up questions have special power. Follow-up questions signal to your conversation partner that you are listening, that you care and that you want to know more. People interacting with a conversation partner who asks lots of follow-up questions tend to feel respected and heard. According to Leslie K. John, “Most people don’t grasp that asking a lot of questions unlocks learning and improves interpersonal bonding.” Plus, follow-up questions don’t require much thought or preparation and usually come naturally to the questioner.

Yet be advised that no one likes to feel interrogated. Furthermore, closed-end questions tend to yield one-word answers. Open-ended questions counteract that effect and for that reason, they can be particularly useful in uncovering information or learning something new. In fact, they are wellsprings of innovation—which is often the result of finding the hidden, unexpected answer that no one has thought of before.

Sequencing

If the goal is to build relationships, opening with less sensitive questions and escalating slowly seems to be most effective.  In a set of studies (the results of which went viral following a write-up in the “Modern Love” column in the New York Times), psychologist Arthur Aron recruited strangers to come to the lab, paired them up and gave them a list of questions.  Participants were told to work their way through the list, starting with relatively shallow inquiries and progressing to more self-revelatory ones, such as “What is your biggest regret?”

Pairs in the control group were asked simply to interact with each other. The pairs who followed the prescribed structure liked each other more than the control pairs. This effect is so strong that it has been formalized in a task called “the relationship closeness induction,” a tool used by researchers to build a sense of connection among the participants.

Tone

People are more forthcoming when you ask questions in a casual way, rather than in a terse, official tone. In general, an overly formal tone is likely to inhibit people’s willingness to share information.

Group dynamics

Conversational dynamics can change profoundly depending on whether you’re chatting one-on-one with someone or talking in a group. Not only is the willingness to answer questions impacted by the presence of others, but members of a group tend to follow one anothers lead. In a meeting or group setting, it takes only a few closed-off people for questions to lose their probing power.  Conversely, if even one person starts to open up on a topic, the rest of the group is likely to follow suit.

Art of the response

Conversation is a dance, a mutual push-and-pull. Just as the way we ask questions can facilitate trust and the sharing of information so, too, can the way we answer them. Answering questions requires making a choice about where to fall on a continuum between privacy and transparency.  How should I answer this question? Assuming that I answer, how forthcoming can I afford to be? What should one do when asked a question that, if answered truthfully, might reveal a less-than-flattering information, or put one in a disadvantaged strategic position?

Each end of the spectrum—fully opaque and fully transparent—has benefits and pitfalls.  In negotiations, withholding sensitive information (e.g., that your alternatives are weak) can help you secure better outcomes. At the same time, transparency is an essential part of building meaningful connections. Even in a negotiation context, transparency can lead to value-creating deals; by sharing information, participants can identify elements that are relatively unimportant to one party but important to the other—the foundation of a win-win outcome.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: The Dating Game, 1965- 1973 (ABC-TV)

 

 

Ramp Up Your Customer Service Protocols

Identifying competitive advantages for your business can be a real challenge. You probably have a fine product and service line, but how can you distinguish your company from the pack and rise to the top in the minds of customers? As product features and price are not necessarily the determining factors that they once were.  In response, business leaders and owns have turned to the customer experience to build competitive advantages and brand loyalty that are the bedrock of sustainable long-term success.

Before we go any further, let’s define the term customer experience.  The customer experience is your customers’ perception of how your company treats them. These perceptions affect their behaviors and build memories and feelings to drive their loyalty. In other words: if they like you and continue to like you, they are going to do business with you and recommend your business to the others.  Why should business owners and leaders invest time to map out the customer experience and improve it at every touch point?

  1.  Improves customer retention (by 42%, according to some reports)
  2. Improves customer satisfaction (by 33%)
  3. Enhances cross-selling and up-selling opportunities (by 32%)

A 2013 Deloitte survey showed that 62% of companies now rank the customer experience as a competitive differentiator. They are coming around to understand that what customers really want from your organization is help solving their problem. They want to hear what other customers were able to achieve by using your solution. They want to understand the value and benefits your products promise to deliver, not just the product itself.  The Temkin Group,  a customer experience research and consulting firm, in 2018 found that:

  • 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience
  • 73% of buyers point to customer experience as an important factor in purchasing decisions
  • 65% of buyers find a positive experience with a brand to be more influential than great advertising

 

Excellent customer service means you fix your problems without the customer knowing the problem.  There is no reason for customers ever to see the back of the house problems. Never put that burden on a customer. Customer service also demands a timely response as well as empathy. Customer service also includes mobile, since 52% of customers will not return if they have a negative mobile experience with your organization.

A Harvard Business Review study found that customers are seven times more likely to buy a product when their calls are returned within one hour. In addition to speed and customization, you must handle comments with empathy. “I’m sorry,” is a powerful phrase that can repair a bad experience. Everyone wants to be heard, appreciated and respected. Empathy is free and should be a minimum requirement for any employee that interfaces with a customer.

Customer journey maps include every touchpoint and examine frustration points and areas that create satisfaction. Using internal and external marketing data you can look for gaps between what the customer expects at each step and what the customer experiences. Establish a voice-of-the-customer program, which is a formal process and procedure to solicit feedback and share it across the entire organization to all relevant employees.

From the top down, your organizational culture should encourage all employees to appreciate and respond to customer feedback. Through sharing and by using reputation management software, you can analyze data and can implement actionable goals. Continually look for ways for your organization to improve and continue to become more customer-focused.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: L’here du The. by Albert Lynch (1851 – 1912)

 

The December Holiday Client Outreach Plan

OK troops, you have just a few days left to take advantage of the biggest and easiest client outreach, retention and relationship building opportunity that we’ll have all year—the December holidays.  No doubt you have favorite clients whom you’d like to thank as well as retain, occasional clients with whom you’d like to work more often and lapsed clients whom you’d be thrilled to welcome back and December is the time to activate this most important component of your client outreach plan.  Whether you will limit your outreach to sending a card, or you’ll present a well-chosen gift to special clients, you must act very soon.  I recommend that you mail cards and distribute gifts no later than December 15, to promote the impression that you are always on top of things.

Congratulations to those of you who wisely placed an order in early November for a holiday card that has your business name professionally printed inside and printed on the envelope, the recipient name and address, plus your business return address.  You’re all set to add a brief note of thanks, stamp, seal and mail.

Those who are not quite so organized still have a handful of days to find a box or two of cards that are suitable for clients, meaning the card will contain neither an overt Christmas theme nor religious message.  Good tidings that “celebrate the season” are best for business relationships.

In addition, clients with whom you have a long-term relationship, or who provide you with generous billable hours (or you’d like to increase the chance that you will soon be on the receiving end of same) consider sending a holiday gift.  Your gift is a lovely gesture that demonstrates gratitude for the business you’ve received and the relationship that has developed.  You needn’t spend a lot of money.  Many useful or attractive gifts can be bought for $50.00 or less.

This year, I’ll give two jars of jam that are made by an acquaintance and I’ll hand deliver them to a short list of clients no later than December 18, with my holiday card tucked into the gift bag.  Home made chutney or artisanal honey also make excellent gifts.  Fruit or other gift baskets are a perennial holiday favorite and I’ve seen prices range from $40.00 to $400.00, depending on contents.  An appealing take on the holiday gift basket is the California Sunflower arrangement of premium dried fruits, priced at $50.00 + shipping.

If you know that a client still finds traditional pocket calendars more convenient, I recommend the pocket diary  by Time Traveler USA.  I’ve happily used the brand for several years.  The calendar offers a one-month view and has space to write in appointments.  There’s also include a weekly view that’s spread over two pages. Diaries come in several colors and are $15 each, plus $2.50 for the gift box.

Then again, you might consider buying a tech gift.  Even non-techies might appreciate potentially useful gifts such as Skullcandy wireless headphones , priced at $35.00 + shipping.  Finally, if you have little time and money to spend on client gifts, look at air plants that come in attractive containters (and be sure to include the care instructions).  Mahoney’s Garden Center has a nice selection at various prices and they’ll ship.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: 18th century Rajasthani painting by Nihau Chand

 

Follow the Winners

In one of my favorite lines in one of my favorite movies, The Godfather Part II (1974), Michael Corleone (youngest son of the Godfather) says “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” That advice was quickly adopted by those in business, who interpreted the line as a warning to keep a sharp eye on competitors.  No one wants to be blindsided by the competition and made vulnerable to the loss of revenue and market share.  That fear can keep one awake at night.  But how much time and effort should be spent looking over one’s shoulder and how often does such behavior result in anything that’s actionable or profitable?

Some business experts recommend that rather than obsessing over competitors, perhaps wondering what you might copy, instead study successful business leaders in other industries. When looking to keep your organization relevant and vital, strategies implemented by leaders at successful companies in industries other than your own can provide lessons and inspiration that will benefit you and your business.

To launch and sustain a profitable business, it is essential that you offer products or services for which there is a growing market, that you recognize and articulate a strong value proposition that attracts customers and that you devise a smart and efficient business model to put it all in motion and deliver the goods.  It makes sense to study innovative entrepreneurs from a variety of industries, so that you can learn what worked for their organizations and think about how certain of those strategies and tactics might be applied to your venture.

You might start this unique form of competitive intelligence by walking into a bookstore and browsing through the business section. You’ll be certain to find at least one or two interesting books, perhaps in memoir form, written by entrepreneurs who overcame significant obstacles and setbacks, only to prevail and build multi-million dollar organizations.  You might also look for speaker programs at nearby colleges, local chambers of commerce, or other business organizations that from time to time are known to host speakers who tell the story of how s/he built a successful enterprise.

Finally, since so much in life hinges on relationships and developing a strong and supportive network, remember also to reach out to those whom you know.  When you stop and think, you’ll realize that you cross paths with business owners and leaders on a regular basis.  We see and interact with these smart, successful professionals at neighborhood association meetings, at the garden club, at our place of worship, while at the gym and when serving on a not-for-profit board.  I’m willing to wager that you’ll be able to develop a friendship with at least two of these individuals and find opportunities to talk business now and again.

So extend yourself and get to know a little better the people with whom you regularly interact.  Start with some friendly small talk and and work your way toward having real conversations that lead to developing relationships.  At some point, you may be able to segue into a conversation about business, at your organization and theirs.  If you reach the level of trust that includes sharing stories about business challenges and tactics, you’ll be fortunate to have found a friend and perhaps also a mentor.  The experience will be much more satisfying, and effective, than spying on and obsessing over your business rivals.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Nike, goddess of victory, awards Heracles (Hercules) with the prize of a laurel wreath for his win at the 776 B.C. Olympics. Courtesy of the British Museum in London.

6 Conversation Starters for Your Next Networking Event

At last! You’ve been thinking about going to a chamber of commerce meeting for three years and you’re finally doing it.  The speaker will address a relevant topic.  The weather forecast is good.  You know where to park.  The only downside is that you probably won’t know anyone in the room.

You’re not shy, but neither are you keen on ping-ponging around a roomful of strangers, in search of your next client, or at least someone to talk to.  You have no fear of meet and greets, but wouldn’t it be great if you knew some conversation starters that can steer folks away from the usual sports talk and “how’s business?” Let’s learn how to sidestep mindless small-talk and get into conversations that can launch a relationship.

  1. What subject has your attention right now?

When you’re meeting someone and searching for ways to connect, this question can open the door to a discussion about business, family, extracurricular activities, a much-anticipated vacation, even home renovations.  The person to whom you put this question will light up and be happy to talk and you’ll be on your way to building a relationship.

2.   What are you looking forward to?

This question opens the door to the person’s hopes and plans for the future.  Again, this makes it possible to start a real connection as the conversation progresses.  You communicate your genuine interest in that person and what s/he feels is important.

3.  What’s the best thing you’ve done this year?

Or what’s the smartest thing, or the luckiest?  Here, the person gets to distinguish him/herself and has the pleasure of boasting a little bit.  You’ll get to know what s/he values and what makes him/her proud.  You’ll gain some insight into the person’s past in this question.  You’ll get to know what makes him/her happy and also one of the sources of his/her self-esteem.

4.  What’s your story?

I’m careful with how I pose this question, to avoid appearing as if I’m looking to invade boundaries.  Maybe showing a bit of humor when you ask will make it go over well? Now you’ll give the person you’ve just met a chance to do what most of us adore—talking about ourselves! Here, you allow your new acquaintance to take center stage and discuss his/her past successes or challenges, reveal how s/he has overcome obstacles or taken advantage of opportunities and share his/her aspirations by shedding light on the road ahead.

5.  What are you currently reading?

Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Edith Wharton, or Stephen King? Getting to know someone through his/her choice of books is wonderful.  You’ll learn something important about your new acquaintance.  It’s possible that s/he seldom read books and instead prefers business journals and blogs and watching a lot of movies. Whatever.

While in conversation, you may be pleased to learn that you both enjoy certain authors (and actors) and that opens the door to an engaging conversation and the perfect opportunity to build a relationship, business and/or personal.

6.  How can I be most helpful to you right now?

An offer to help your new acquaintance to take a step closer to achieving a goal or objective is the highest compliment that you can extend and demonstrates that you trust him/her enough to put your reputation on the line on his/her behalf.  The building blocks for a relationship are about to be put into place.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Rosalind Russell as party hostess extraordinaire Auntie Mame (1958). The film won Best Picture and Best Actress (Rosalind Russell) Academy Awards.

 

Holiday Gifts for Your Top Clients

OK procrastinators, it’s time to finally bust a move and get busy with the holiday cards and maybe gifts, too, that Freelance consultants MUST send to every client you’ve worked with over the past five years.  Relationships are everything in life and it’s up to the Freelancer to cultivate and sustain business relationships that help you grow your client list.  It’s important to periodically communicate with clients past and present and the good news is that at holiday time, there’s no need to invent a reason to reach out.  The December holidays are an important element of every Freelancer’s client retention strategy.

I’m happy to report that my business holiday cards were mailed on December 12.  So far, I haven’t felt the need to give client gifts.  BTW regarding cards, the vast majority of your clients are Christian and they’ll celebrate Christmas to some extent.  However, 2014 data shows that 30% of adults in the U.S. do not practice Christianity and it is for that reason your holiday cards should avoid a specific religious theme and instead refer to “the holiday season.” Because you know your clients, the brief message that you’ll write in each card (whether or not you order them pre-printed) can reference Christmas, Ramadan (which can occur in December), or Hanukkah.

If you feel that presenting selected clients with a gift (to acknowledge your gratitude for generous billable hours), take action and order today.  Corporate gifts are mailed, as are cards, so you must allow for shipping time.  Start with a call to the client’s HR department to inquire about corporate gift restrictions.  There may be a cap on the amount, or alcoholic beverages may be prohibited.  Once you’ve confirmed the policy, decide what you feel is appropriate to spend, consider your gift options and choose the company you should order from.

When you’ve identified two or three companies that seem to be good possibilities, do an online search to find out if there have been problems with customer service, delivery times, or the quality of the merchandise.  The company should track the delivery of the gifts you’ve ordered from them and let you know when they’ve been received by your clients.  Alternatively, the company should make it possible for you to track your gifts and confirm receipt.

Furthermore, the company you order from should not include its promotional material in the gift box.  Not even your company promotional material will be in the gift box.  Your purpose is to thank your clients for the business relationship.  The company can include a sticker or business card so that it can be identified as the source of the gift.

Every corporate gift company will allow you to include a personal note, so be sure to draft one before you place your order.  A note expressed in your words will communicate your thoughtfulness and respect to the recipient.

Finally, look for a company that will guarantee the gifts with a refund policy for missed delivery times or damaged goods.  Here are a few corporate gift suggestions at various prices:

  1. Texting gloves —keep hands warm on frosty winter days and give fingers touch screen conductivity    $10.00 – $80
  2. Uber or Lyft gift card— sure to be appreciated and quickly used    $20 minimum
  3. Plant—scientific research shows that adding greenery to the environment boosts a person’s mood and energizes the overall ambience of the space. Choose a plant that’s easy to care for and not fussy about the light required.  A geranium could work and they flower year round.  Call a local greenhouse to order.    $20 – $50
  4. Docking station—You may want to oder one for your home office! It’s a sleek charging station for your mobile devices.    $20 – $100
  5. Spiral notebook and mobile charging station from Time Traveler USA    $65  http://timetravelerusa.com/notebook-powerbank-corporate/

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: The New Bonnet (1858)  Francis William Edmonds                                            Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art   New York, NY