Friday, May 29, 2009

Embracing the Jerk

Esther Steinfeld has me thinking about what it means to be jerk.

Steinfeld, who handles corporate communications for Internet retailer, created an entertaining Web site and online community to showcase the altruistic endeavors of top corporate executives. Comprised primarily of user generated content, Steinfeld encourages CEOs to upload anecdotes, photos and videos that demonstrate how they contribute to society, community and family in a positive and meaningful way.

The genesis of “Not All CEOs are Jerks” is quite personal for Steinfeld. “My dad’s a CEO and he’s not a jerk,” she writes on the site’s homepage.

While Steinfeld’s endeavor validates that most CEOs are community and family oriented, it does nothing to disprove the perception that we tend to be jerks. In fact, I’ll go so far to suggest that jerk-like qualities are a must-have trait for success in the executive suite.

Let me expand on this a bit. Once Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) began to take shape as a viable company I learned two things fairly quickly:

1. My most important responsibility is to make difficult decisions that impact the professional and personal paths of the people who work for me.

2. I am not personal friends with anyone who is a colleague at Strategic. As such, there is no emotion or favoritism that influences my thinking.

For these reasons, I can come off as a jerk in meeting the requirements of my position. Here’s an example. If someone from Strategic arrives unprepared for a scheduled internal meeting I do not hesitate to point this out in front of their peers. I’m not abusive, yet rather make it clear that this lack of professionalism is simply unacceptable.

As you can imagine, my approach on this issue has created angst for a number of employees (all of whom are former). They expressed irritation and even outrage for this slight in front of co-workers.

To this, I simply suggested they make it a priority to come prepared to meetings.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Social Media and Enterprise Sales Acceleration

There is seldom a quick hit in business-to-business enterprise sales.

Prospects are appropriately demanding. Product features and corporate capabilities must be presented and validated -- repeatedly. Market expertise, thought leadership and industry reputation are constantly judged.

Rush the process and a vendor risks losing the deal. Relationships are cultivated over time and it’s typical for an enterprise sales cycle to be measured in years.

The payoff is sweet. Revenue from an enterprise sale can run well into the millions of dollars. Plus, the lifetime value of a loyal customer can serve as the very foundation of the business.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), the majority of our clients sell sophisticated products or services to government and commercial enterprise customers. As such, our social media and digital communications work has gravitated towards lead generation and sales cycle support for enterprise deals.

We have refined a four-step methodology that allows social media performance to be measured by enterprise deal flow and resulting revenue, rather than merely awareness and positioning.

Step 1 Prioritize the Hot Ones. By working closely with your sales team, a set of prospects can be culled based on their standing in the sales pipeline, intimacy of existing relationship and potential size of the transaction. Typically, we’ll select a list of 15 to 25 prospects which is then reviewed and updated on a monthly basis.

Step 2 Map and Monitor. Compile an overview of each prospect’s engagement in online communities, blogs, Twitter feeds, trade shows and conferences, and advertising activities. Monitor weekly and pay particular attention to new activities and related messaging.

Step 3 Engage in a Prospect’s Communities of Choice. Connect with a prospect through LinkedIn, Facebook and other communities, and then share relevant content from your company’s social media and marketing activities. Also, be sure to demonstrate your interest in the prospect’s views through comments on their blog or invitations to contribute content to your social media programs.

Step 4 Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate.
There are two important criteria to use when assessing the impact of social media on enterprise sales activities. There are tactical benchmarks, such as number of prospect connections, comment exchange and participation in content development. And then there is anecdotal feedback from the sales team on how social media and digital engagement has helped move deals forward.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

True Companion: Makings of a Business Partner

If you’re a corporate buyer of professional services I suspect you have a myriad of partners.

Let’s start with your legal counsel with its team of $500 an hour Ivy Leaguers helping you survive the litigious jungle that defines business today. Then, there is your accounting firm with its principals of comparable pedigree and billable rate making sure you steer clear of the inquiring eyes of the SEC and IRS.

Now lump in the management consultants, HR and benefit representatives, spin doctors and advertising hotshots. I bet you all of these advisors claim to stand with you as a partner.

The truth is that none of the lot should actually fall in to the partner category. They provide a service. They pick up a check. That’s the definition of a vendor.

Of course, this is not to say a vendor is unable to rise to a loftier partner status. It just takes a bit of creativity in how they leverage their core capabilities, market connections and assets to help you increase sales, profitability and/or valuation in a measurable way.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we offer clients access to a proprietary Network of Relationships® as a means of bringing additional value to an engagement. We explore the natural synergies that exist among our clients and industry contacts, and then facilitate introductions to stimulate partner and teaming discussions.

An even better example is food distributor Sysco and its free consulting service called Business Review. The company helps its restaurant customers increase sales and profits through food preparation advice, marketing support and wait staff training.

In an interview in BusinessWeek, Sysco’s vice chairman explains their motivation, “We felt if we could improve their business, that would improve our business with them.”

Now that’s a business partner.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Credibility in Numbers

Britain Got Talent’s Susan Boyle belting out “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserable garners more than 50 million views on YouTube. Ashton Kutcher’s entourage of Twitter followers tops a million. And Burger King’s quirky “Whopper Sacrifice” promotion on Facebook leads to nearly 250 million people being defriended for a free burger.

When it comes to consumer applications of social media it’s apparent that success is typically judged based on the number of exposures. That’s because the need for brand reputation and awareness has long driven how consumer-oriented marketers allocate their resources.

Does the same hold true in a business-to-business environment where purchase decisions are made by a select few? Surprisingly, the answer is “yes,” however for reasons other than the value of broad market visibility.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we’ve found that attracting a balance of quantity and quality of readership is the formula for achieving measurable benchmarks in areas such as lead generation, enterprise sales support, search engine optimization (SEO) and executive visibility.

There are a couple of contributing factors at work here. For starters, a large, diverse and engaged readership confers credibility on the ideas, thoughts and views expressed via social media tactics.

For instance, the impact of a blog is typically evaluated based on its readership, number of comments and authority. A strong showing in these areas enhances how a highly placed, executive-level reader may view the quality of the blog and the expertise of its author.

Second, a sizeable and expanding community of followers and/or readers allows a company to create the perception of tremendous momentum for and interest in its solutions. Geoffrey Moore’s classic book “Crossing the Chasm” outlined the positive sales impact that occurs when a company creates a bandwagon effect, establishing its products as the de facto standard.

Strategic’s promotional approach when it comes to social media content is to caste a wide net through participation in broad-based online networks and social bookmark communities, while working closely with the client’s sales organization to laser-target on specific customers and prospects.

Quantity and quality of readers…that’s ultimately the result.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

ISO Sales Mojo

During challenging economic times the executive suite often becomes obsessed with any methodology, technique or best practice that may improve sales efficiency.

That fixation fuels lots of activity. Management consultants churn out how-to books at a pace that would put prodigious author Nora Roberts to shame. Sales coaches and trainers organize Webinars to peddle their services. And professional organizations – in an attempt to remain relevant to its membership – organize roundtable discussions and events.

I arrived yesterday at the Tower Club in Tysons Corner, Virginia searching for the magic that would stimulate Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) sales mojo. We’ve been fortunate to have signed on with a number of exceptional new clients this year. Yet, the number of new business opportunities coming down the path has cratered in the past six months like no time in our 15 year history. It’s a bit unnerving, to say the least.

A roundtable discussion hosted by the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) National Capital Chapter brought together three speakers who I thought might provide an in-the-trenches view of sales success in today’s market. Their thoughts, advice and tips were right on target.

Here’s a recap of the most relevant comments organized by speaker:

Cliff Sink

There is no magic formula when it comes to sales metrics. They will be unique to each company.

What most people think of marketing is actually marketing communications. The role of marketing leadership is to understand customers, the company’s value proposition and expectations of the sales cycle.

A famous line from every sales person is, “This deal can open up a new market for us.” Be careful not to enter a market of one.

Alba Aleman

Merely measuring tactical sales activities like number of calls or meetings proved ineffective. It created an inaccurate view of the health of the pipeline. Today, we measure each sales rep on outcomes, including quality opportunities, win ratios and sales quotas.

Sales don’t own profitability of a contract. That’s the role of operations management, supported by the executive team.

Jerry Marterella
Market Accel

There are two types of sales pipelines, healthy and unhealthy. And like accounts receivables, pipelines age.

Prospecting for new business is a fly wheel that is always turning. It’s an ongoing activity because timing when the customer has a need is an uncontrollable aspect.

Each company has to uncover its colossal distinction which it ten supports with credibility, coherency and clarity. These are the components of effective messaging.

Never hire a sales person just for their rolodex. They need to bring the business development skills. And, always remember, hire slow/manage easy – hire fast/manage hard.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Competitive Intel and the Social Media Footprint

In the capital intensive world of technology and telecom millions of dollars are at risk when it comes to decisions related to product development and to-market strategies. A better informed executive team makes smarter, more strategic decisions and, as a result, enhances a company’s chances for success.

For this reason, companies invest considerable resources to gather intelligence about competitors. What features are planned for their next generation product? Are they cutting price in a move to grab market share? Why are they hiring sales representatives on the west coast?

On the up and up, most technology vendors field a business analyst team to gather competitive insight from public sources. They crawl Web sites. They troll trade show floors chatting up booth representatives. And they talk to customers, prospects and partners.

A select few have demonstrated comfort with the clandestine. The business press from time-to-time breaks news of corporate spying via dumpster diving, as well as the illegitimate downloading from password-protected Web sites.

There is simply no justification for these ethically questionable (and possibly illegal) actions. However, one can understand the motivation because of the importance of competitive insight.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we have been thinking about how social networks and online communities can be appropriately leveraged as part of an intelligence gathering initiative. Here are a few ideas:

1. Start with a comprehensive social media audit of a competitor. Map the LinkedIn profiles, Twitter feeds, blogs and other forms of social media engagement of their corporate, marketing and technical executives.

2. Study the competitor’s community of followers, subscribers and connections. Build a Web of companies they are aligned with and then organize the list by suspected customer, prospect and partners. This is a baseline

3. Monitor daily and identify new additions to the competitors’ social network. These additions will give you valuable insight into competitor’s sales activities, partnerships, capital fundraising and recruitment.

Of course, in any competitive intelligence gathering activity it is paramount that a company always identity itself accurately and openly. Even with this absolute requirement for transparency, you may be pleasantly surprised with what a competitor reveals through its social media footprint.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Social Media Spend Moves from the Fringe

In today’s environment, marketers and corporate communications professionals face two realities: 1) the audiences they need to reach -- customers, prospects, partners and influencers – have migrated to social networks and online communities; and 2) the budget they have to fund lead generation and branding programs continues to be stressed.

Where will dollars now be found to invest in social media and digital marketing programs?

For the past two years it has been primarily fringe budget -- those modest sums remaining at the end of the quarter that must be spent or forfeited back to the corporate kitty. This financial approach was smart thinking as social media and digital marketing was relatively new and experimental. If a program hit big, then it was kudos all around. If went bust…well there wasn’t much invested in it.

According to a recent forecast from the analysts at Forrester Research, corporate marketing is now pulling from the resources reserved for traditional promotional activities to fund social media and digital campaigns.

Moreover, Forrester projects accelerating growth in social media investments due to marketers seeking lower cost, more accountable channels which are also widely used by their customers.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Goodness of Social Media Portals

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we know we’re on a good path if 90 days into a social media campaign the client is happily frustrated.

The giddiness comes from the traction that program has gained with our target audiences. We’ve established an editorial strategy, our readership and engagement is expanding, search engine optimization (SEO) is enhanced, and a lead generation initiative is in the works.

Why the despair?

Internal audiences typically take note as momentum builds with a corporate social media program. It generates excitement for the potential of Web 2.0 tools and technologies, which then leads to a wave of unsupervised adoption across the organization. LinkedIn and Facebook profiles are updated. Twitter accounts spring up. Personal blogs take shape.

In a recent post entitled “Three Phases of Social Media Maturation” I refer to this period as “Bridging to Pervasive.” It is very much a positive as an understanding of the value of social media becomes ingrained in an organization’s psyche. Yet, it does present challenges for the corporate marketer.

For starters, there is the issue of consistency in messaging. This is a basic tenet of effective branding – every touch a key stakeholder has with the company should be in-step with an overall positioning strategy. The more tweets, updates, blog posts and comments in social networks from a diverse set of employees across the company the greater the chance for fragmentation of the brand.

A second challenge for the corporate marketer is policing the inadvertent disclosure of company sensitive information to participants in online communities. This is of particular concern for publicly-traded companies, as well as organizations in highly regulated industries, such as healthcare or financial services.

One approach to address these challenges without stunting Web 2.0 enthusiasm is for corporate marketing to create a social media portal to serve an entry point to a company’s online engagement. Employees retain a certain amount of freedom about how they participate in social networks and they realize increased readership from the cross-promotion of content with their colleagues.

For corporate marketers, a social media portal brings structure and consistency to the program, while helping them establish and maintain content parameters.

Regional accounting firm Cherry Bekaert & Holland has followed this path with its “Economic Recovery Resource Center." Developed for wealthy individuals and companies of all sizes, this social media portal combines third party content with a mix of blogs from the accounting firm’s subject matter experts. The content is timely and relevant, and, I suspect, aligned with a SEO strategy.

Kudos to the folks at Cherry Bekaert. They are fully engaged in social media while marketing maintains an appropriate level of management and control.