Marketing Tips for Professionals

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

It's a good cause...

For many of our clients and friends, you already know. My daughter, Sophia, was born 8 weeks prematurely weighing 2 lbs and 2 ounces. She spent the first 5 weeks of her life in the NICU and is now 7 months old. My husband and I know that our little girl is as healthy and fiesty as she is because of the amazing medical care she received. Much of the research regarding preemie babies is funded by the March of Dimes. Therefore, we want to help them continue their work with preemies and help raise some moolah. My family and friends are participating with me in WalkAmerica in Williamsburg on May 20th. Please visit our personalized site for more information: www.walkamerica.org/teampinola. If you are interested in participating, let me know! If you can donate, we'd appreciate that as well.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The blog is moving

In January, we moved to new space with two other companies - 2D9 and Top Dead Center Design. TDCD recently launched a new blogsite for all of us to use. This blog will be abandoned and all postings will happen at our new blogsite - http://www.suitec.net. Please visit us there!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

It's Not Just About The Money

Laura, one of my friends, mentors, and colleagues, suggested I write about something that recently put a very large, very angry bee in my bonnet.

Those who know me know that a pet peeve of mine are companies that try to be everything to everyone. I 've written about it, gotten on my soapbox, and if I could, I'd pass out pamphlets door-to-door on why you shouldn't do it. Perhaps because Jennifer and I have made a living at being very niched and targeted, we take it personally when others out there run around half-assing their businesses because they are spread too thinly in everything they do.

However, this latest incident upset me more than usual because the underlying message sent to me was, "Oh, what you do is so EASY, we can just handle it and make money off it."

This begs one point to be discussed before I go any further. A few months ago a client complained about the cost of their website's development component. Until I sat down and saw how websites are designed and built, I hadn't the faintest idea of what was involved, how complicated it could be, or what kind of expertise and knowledge it took to built a really good site. The client got their bill and said, "How hard can this be? It's just a simple website!" It wasn't.

My point being, things that look simple can be deceptive. Especially for those of us who sell intangible things, like marketing, simplicity can be our downfall. I'm going to say it more for my benefit than anyone else's: marketing is not easy, or simple. We study it, live it, breathe it, and work with it. Just because there is no blueprint for our end product doesn't mean it's easy and that anyone can do it.

So here's what happened. Someone else in the business community has worked with us on a marketing program in the past. Their clients needed a particular service we sell - they didn't know how to do it - and we helped them out. They saw the end-result we produced, not the steps that went into producing that result. I got a call from one of the owners last week to give me the heads up that they had decided to start selling this service directly. In essence, they were cutting us out of the loop, stopping any referrals, and keeping this revenue stream for themselves.

I stayed calm, wished them the best of luck with their endeavor, and hung up the phone.

This has happened to us in the past, with other companies like this one, with this particular service. Like I said, the vehicle we use for the service is deceptively simple. A monkey could push the buttons to take care of it. What isn't easy is the strategy. Knowing what questions to ask, how to structure this campaign, how to implement it, make it good, deciding on tone, the look and feel, and how often - these are the intangibles that all happen before the button is pushed. And without fail, every company who thinks this is so easy and has thought the revenue was easy pickins for them has failed miserably. One company was not only fired from providing this service - they were fired from their whole account. Is it worth it?

We ask ourselves when meeting with a client for the first time, can we provide the very best service? Do we have the knowledge and tools to help them in the way they need it? If the answer is no, or even maybe not, we walk. Reputations are hard to build and harder to maintain. I'm not saying everyone has loved us but we have made a commitment to staying true to what we do best. Unfortunately, not everyone else feels that way.

After my phone call, I could smell the bridge between myself and that company smoking and starting to burn. I was sad about that. But I also wanted, more than anything, to stand on the side of I-95 with a poster simply stating: "Businesspeople: There is Enough Business For All of Us." It's not just about the money - it's about doing what's best for your clients.

And note to our newest competitor: watch out. We're really good at what we do.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Event Hangover

Right Angle hosted our first Open House with new roommies Top Dead Center Design and 2D9 yesterday. As always, I have an "event hangover" today - along with a list of the successes and not-so-much successes.

Our Open House firmly fell on the side of successful, but that's not to say we did everything right. This brings me to the subject of today's blog.

While you're still recovering from your big event, it's a great idea to recap all the things you think went right and wrong. We printed out a list of attendees last night and figured out who had shown up and who hadn't. Jennifer and I, being marketing geeks, really enjoy doing analysis on the percentages of no shows, people we invited but didn't respond, and those who responded AND showed up to drink a lot of wine and beer and eat Chef Maura's exceptionally delicious food. Here are some tips we always utilize before and after an event.

  1. It's the little things that count. Pay attention to the small details. Sara at 2D9 purchased fresh flowers for each of our areas and picked flowers that matched our individual spaces and personalities. A number of people commented on how the purple tulips she picked matched our corporate identity. A few people told me they loved the candles we had burning outside - it made the entryway to our office warm and inviting. If you've got the budget, a nice take-away is great to give - a client once gave away very nice wine bottle openers at an event.
  2. The big things count, too. Don't skimp on food or beverages - it always shows and comes back to bite you in the end. Bringing clients into your space is a great opportunity to show them who you really are. We have a client who is also an accomplished artist. We don't have the budget at the moment to purchase fine art for our walls, so he hung his paintings in our space during the event and it made a huge difference. Don't host an Open House if your space is going to make you look like an idiot, and if you can't afford to provide high quality food and beverages, wait until you can.
  3. Measure, measure, measure. As with any marketing initiative, measurement is key. Ask yourself, what are the goals of the event? What kind of follow up will I do? What kinds of information do I need to make available during the event? We asked ourselves these questions. Our goal was to introduce all three companies in the space to each other's client and network contacts. We created a postcard that could be taken away with brief, bullet points about each company. It had a call to action to encourage people to sign up for our blogs and newsletters. That way we can see how many people actually do sign up, and then send them stuff.
  4. Before the week is out, compile a list of the things you liked and didn't like - and write them down. They will be beneficial for future events.

And, if all else fails, you can hire us to plan your event. We love it!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

My "duh" moment

You ever have one of those days where an issue you've been grappling with suddenly becomes crystal clear? It's so clear you are almost blinded by it? And you finally find the words to sum up the issue? I had one of those days earlier in the week and thought I would share it with you - at the risk of stepping on Laura Posey's toes (who writes a blog directed at business owners and salespeople). She's the real expert on all things related to selling, but I still have opinions and love to share them here!

Here's my epiphany. Just because you can sell doesn't mean you should be a sales manager, or for that matter, any kind of manager at all.

Yeah, I know. Duh. Seriously, though - think about all the companies you know that have a big sales force. Inevitably you find that those who can sell end up being promoted into management (unless they flat out refuse and say, hey, I'm a salesperson! Who wants to manage when you can be selling!!!).

I worked for a large, unwieldy industrial automation company for nearly 5 years in my previous life. While I learned a lot (including how to make a programmable logic controller sound sexy on a website), I was consistently frustrated with the management, lack of management, and horrible management. The reason the management was so bad? If you could sell a lot at that company, you got to be a branch manager. Not only did they want you to manage an entire office and territory, they wanted you to manage OTHER SALESPEOPLE! The promoted salespeople ate it up with a spoon - they got their own office, a leather chair, a business card with "Branch Manager" on it, and a big fat raise to match. But they drove the administrative bunch and their own salespeople insane. Their communication skills were horrid, their management skills were null, and they had no idea how to give feedback, advice, or constructive criticism. In one particularly memorable incident, a BM (as I liked to call them) reacted to something I said that he didn't like in the usual way he did as a salesperson. He pitched a fit. The fit included stomping his feet, hitting his fist on his desk, door slamming and cursing. As a salesperson, he could react this way in front of his BM . . . that was standard, and they could vent and slap backs and be done with it. Doing it in front of your marketing director, however, was entirely different.

Sure, occasionally we'd get lucky and end up with a decent branch manager. However, out of the 13 BM's, 11 of them flat out stunk.

Recently we worked with a client in the same boat. The titles have changed, because we'd all spontaneously combust if someone in professional services had a title like "sales manager" - but it's really not that different. Professionals are forced, every day, to do things they are horrible at - including managing firms.

It's just something to think about, and mull over. Law firms will always have managing partners because they have to. However, putting a strong person in the firm administration role, like someone with a business/management background, can make a huge difference. Jennifer blew my mind today by telling me about a large firm that hired a marketing director with NO marketing experience. This person happens to be a lawyer. Apparently, being a lawyer means you know how to market a law firm - in their book. It also means you automatically know how to run a business, hire people, and structure benefits and compensation. NOT.

The moral of the story is to simply be honest about your firm's strengths and weaknesses. Leverage the strengths. Put people where they are good, and productive, and most importantly, happy. All the money in the world won't make a great communicator or manager out of a lawyer who just wants to write briefs all day.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

What "Value Added" Really Means

Lots of firms throw out all of their "value added" services these days. Most clients don't know, or care, what they mean.

To me, VALUE ADDED means that I, as the client, am getting something extra for the money I'm already paying. It's like getting a banana split when you were only expecting a single solitary scoop of vanilla ice cream.

One of the ways professionals can add value to their relationships with their clients is to do something good for themselves. Yes folks, you heard it right. Self-serving interests can also serve your clients, too.

Networking is one of the best ways to add value.

1. By networking, you meet lots of other cool people in your business universe.
2. By meeting these other cool people, you learn about what they do.
3. Those that would seem to have business that fits well with yours - follow up! Work on your relationship with them.
4. As clients turn to you, O Most Trusted Advisor, and ask you for advice, or the inevitable "I need a _______, do you know someone who does that?" you will have an answer for them. They will call you more and more because you seem to know everyone and are free about sharing who will take care of them in the same, careful, fastidious way YOU take care of them.
5. Because they call you first, and rely on you for all sorts of stuff outside of your immediate work realm, your relationship will deepen with them. Their loyalty to you will grow, they will become rabid salespeople for you, and will try to convert all of their friends and families into clients of yours, just like they are.

Who could ask for more? So get out from behind your desk, remove the billable meter that is constantly running in your brain, and spend some time out in your community. I promise, you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Price-Sensitive

One of our clients recently received a bill from an attorney. We were talking about cash flow, and he casually mentioned that he had gotten what he felt was an "outrageous" bill from his corporate attorney. I probed a little deeper, and found out that basically this attorney's invoice had a single line in it, called "legal services", an hourly rate and the total amount being billed. I remarked, "No wonder it seems outrageous to you - you have no idea what it was for."

We're very careful in our invoices to spell out specifically what we were doing with our client's time. In the world of professional services, most of what we provide on a daily basis is intangible. Your clients aren't receiving a box full of goods at the end of the day - they are receiving your brain, years of your experience, and good advice instead. Although it's hard to put a price on that advice, we all have our hourly rates.

Many businesses in my own industry, as well as the industries we serve, sometimes forget how mystifying what it is we do for a living is to our clients. They truly don't get why writing a brief might take 2 hours or 10. It's our job to explain as clearly and concisely as possible why we price the way we do, and what they got for the price. Simply stating "legal services" will save you time in your invoicing cycle, but boy, are you going to get creamed from angry clients calling to find out what's up with their bill. "Strategic marketing planning" always gets a rise from our clients, but "Spent 2.5 hours researching market opportunity in Fairfax" doesn't.

The follow up to the story is that once the client called his attorney, and got the full description of what we on, he was actually HAPPY he was only charged what was on the invoice. Turns out the attorney had cut him a break and charged him half-time for this particular service. If he'd only taken the time to put that on the invoice in the first place . . .