When the chips are down…

When the chips are down…

Yesterday I said my final goodbyes to one of my closest friends, Pete Pope. Pete was only 38 and was taken from us far too early. He was an inspirational guy and one that we can all learn from. If his short life can inspire just one or two people to take action and change the way they perceive life when the chips are down then he would be very happy.

Pete had a horrendous medical history.

Among many other ailments, he suffered from Cancer twice and in his early 20′s had a stroke which almost left him completely paralysed. He lost the ability to use one arm.

He then went on to suffer Kidney failure, which got worse and worse as he struggled to find a donor. At one point I remember him saying his body was only able to use around 5% of that of a healthy human’s kidneys.

Earlier this year he was on dialysis 4-5 times a week for hours and hours at a time. It really got him down. After a couple of false starts with potential donors, they finally found one later in the year and the opp to put it in was successful. He was happier than I’d ever seen him. Then, just three weeks ago the kidney rejected so he had to go back into hospital. That was the day that he didn’t turn up and was found on his own at his house, having had a severe brain haemorrhage. He later passed away with his friends by his bed – Although tragic I was lucky enough to be one of those friends.

Pete was a warm hearted person who often turned up at my wife and I’s house for a cup of tea. He always had time to talk through the challenges we faced and offer his advice. He was genuinely concerned when we had a few health issues ourselves earlier this year, helping us wherever he could. He never once belittled our shared problems, so admirable considering what he was going through himself. I never heard him complain about the cards life had dealt him. He never looked for sympathy, he just got on with it.

Pete loved golf. He made the England disabled team last year and was looking forward to playing much more next year. He didn’t let the fact he only had one arm hold him back. He learnt to play with his disability and he was bloody good – out drove me most of the time!!!

I tell you this story, partly because it helps me to journal it, but also because I’m hoping we can all take something from this tragic situation. We need to learn that our day to day gripes, our moans about something or someone in the office, perhaps even our own health problems are so insignificant when compared to what this amazing man battled through. Next time I find myself down, I’ll remember Pete and have a quiet little word with myself.

I’m sure that some of you will have a Pete in your life – I hope you do. I’d recommend you reflect on their outlook to life and ask if there is anything you can adopt in your own approach to the daily grind. If we all did this, the world would be a better place.

You were an inspiration to me Pete. Rest in peace my friend.

Inbound Marketing – A few key takeaways from IMUK13

Inbound Marketing – A few key takeaways from IMUK13

Wow – firstly just need to say this is my 100th post! Boom! It makes writing to thin air in the early days seem worthwhile when you hit milestones like this. Thanks to Dave at Optix for pointing this out to me!

So last week I attended Inbound Marketing 2013 in London with my digital marketing team at Optix Solutions. A great day put on by Deeply Digital and Hubspot. The various speakers covered everything from the basic principles of Inbound Marketing (more on that to follow), to how your sales team needs to adapt to an inbound world, to an excellent presentation on conversion rate optimisation by Will Critchlow of Distilled.

As with all these events, they often leave your mind whirring and if you’re not careful you can write down so many things you want to implement, that you don’t end up doing anything. In order that I don’t fall into that trap myself I thought it may be useful to share a few key takeaways with you.

1). Inbound Marketing is more of a philosophy than I’d realised. It all starts with working out your buyer personas (you can have a few). These are not generally demographics but behaviours of your buyers. What makes this persona tick, how do they feel about working with you, what problems do they have that you can solve. The next stage is to create your content plan based on these personas. The next and possibly most technical stage is bringing context into play. Inbound marketers are constantly learning about their users and offering up different experiences online depending on these. A user viewing a website for the first time will see different landing pages than one who has perhaps already downloaded your latest ‘best practice guide’. According to one of the speakers a great example of this was demonstrated by the Wall Street Journal who were able to work out their influencers, lower the pay wall for this group and in turn drive more traffic to their site. True Inbound Marketing at work.

2). Sales (and in fact your entire team) must engage very differently in an inbound world. Brian Halligan, CEO of Hubspot believes that in today’s social world, prospects of B2B companies are anywhere upto 70% down the purchasing funnel before they even pick up the phone to you. They’ve done their research on your company and products. They’ve read reviews, looked at your social media presences and probably looked up your staff. By the time they pick up the phone to call you they’ve made up their mind about the type of company you are so it’s vital your sales team understand this and treat them with the respect they deserve as an informed buyer. This needs to cascade down the entire ‘inbound organisation’ says Brian. Once the sale is made, the whole team need to be consistent in the type of relationship your company has built with them. The message was clear: Sell with integrity, sell with trust, listen more than talk.

3).  My final takeaway was around how much management of staff has changed in the last 40 years and how this impacts anyone who employs a team. Brian showed us this fascinating table of his take on culture change in the last 40 years.

Culture 1973 1993 2013
Mantra Management Leadership Inspiration
Desire Pension Salary Learning
Mentality OCD Anxiety Disorder ADD
Hours 9-5 9-6 Whenever
Workplace 4 walls Openplan Wherever
Tenure Whole Career 6 Years 18 Months

 

 

 

 

 

For people who have lived their lives managing employees from one of the other generations (probably a large proportion of board level directors I’d guess) this leaves an interesting challenge. They must seek to understand their younger workforce and consider the overall makeup of their business if they are to continue getting the most from their team. So what does your staff benefit list look like? Does it impact across the company or just one sub-set of your team? When was the last time you even looked at it? I’m off to look at mine now!

Some great takeaways, some of which I have action points on already. If you can make it to next year’s conference I’d wholeheartedly recommend it. 

How to be a great salesman – A few tips I’ve learnt along the way

How to be a great salesman – A few tips I’ve learnt along the way

Sales can be a dirty word to a lot of people. For me, it’s the life blood of any company, after all without sales, you have no work and without work you have no money. SO I’m sorry folks, if you were thinking of starting your own business and thought you could side step this one, you’re going to need to be incredibly lucky or have invented the next big widget that everyone wants!

I’ve been selling for 13 years. I started when I was just 19, in Exeter (UK) in a world that was dominated predominately by guys that were 40+ and had been in business as long as I’d been on this earth! A scary place and one that I made lots of mistakes in. Here are a few tips I’ve learnt along the way.

1). Qualify, qualify, qualify

When you get to that wonderful point where people start making enquiries, you need to qualify whether they are a fit for your business. The gut reaction is always to take anything that comes your way (especially when you start out). The truth is this leads to lots of unnecessary running around for nothing, dealing with people who don’t respect you and bad business. It may well be that you need to pay the bills but my honest feeling is that if I had my time again, I’d have spent a significant amount of time working out who to target and going for them rather than the scatter gun approach I used back in the early days. Does your sales process include a qualifying step?

2). Make friends

It’s a cliché to say that people buy from people. That said, it’s completely true. If you can’t bond with a prospect within 10 mins of meeting you’re going to struggle. No one wants the sleezy sales person with all the answers (did we ever want that?). We want someone human that understands our needs, our problems and then demonstrates knowledge and the skills to help us with both. Quick tip: When you first go into someone’s office, take a look around the walls for things you might share in common; pictures showing a certain sports persuasion, certain types of books, posters or pictures. Don’t go overboard or change the lifelong football team you’ve supported to that of theirs – it may just be that when the time is right you can bring something less sales related into the conversation and take the pressure off the meeting.

3). Talk openly about money

How many times have I sat there talking to someone I thought needed a website and in my head I know this project is 10k but after two meetings and a proposal I’ve found out they only have a budget of 2k? Too many to embarrassingly mention! How about using a line like this to get you started (yes in your first conversation). “So John, I just want to make sure we’re on the same page here. Our ecommerce sites start at around the 10k mark. There are cheaper alternative options which certainly have their place in the market. Before we meet to discuss all the exciting functionality, how does that sit with you as I know neither of us would want to waste the time of the other?”. You need to work on delivering this in a nurturing way but it can be done and it will save you days and days of wasted time.

4). Build relationships

There are lots of quotes about how much easier it is to sell to current clients than it is to secure new business. Some say 5x, some say 7. Whatever the true number is, you need to work out a strategy for building your client base and selling within it. I tell you one great way of keeping clients loyal – look after them. Amazing isn’t it! Don’t look for the quick buck, keep an eye on their needs using social media sites, be there to help them when they need it. Try and hook them up with your other clients, try and find them sales without the expectation of getting something back in return. Don’t allow yourself to get so blinkered that all you do is look for that next new sale or you’ll make really hard work for yourself.

5). Connect

In this day and age, my clients and prospects can connect with me in many different ways and where possible I always do my very best to respond quickly. They can get me on Twitter, LinkedIn, Email, Google+, my mobile and a number of other places if they want. I don’t turn off at 5:30pm (maybe a bad thing in some people’s books). I’m available because I want the edge and if that edge is helping someone after hours because I can then I’m there.

6). Become a student

…of your industry. Sales these days is about positioning yourself and becoming a trusted advisor for your clients. If you’re the goto guy for something (a product/service etc) because you know the most about it and how it can be used to solve your client’s challenges then you’re going to make sales. If you simply turn upto work, make a few cold calls and go home at 5:30 then good luck to you, I’ve got a felling you’ll be looking for work elsewhere soon.

I’m interested, do you consider sales a dirty word? What are your experiences of selling and can you add any more tips to this list which will help the people reading this?

 

Photo Credit: Lacey_and_Cielle via Compfight cc

The Icarus Deception and Seth Godin

The Icarus Deception and Seth Godin

This week, Seth Godin made a rare appearance in the UK and I was lucky enough to bag myself a ticket. I’ve been a huge fan of Seth’s since reading his book ‘Purple Cow’ 4 or 5 years ago and applying many of the principles within it to my own business. Since then I’ve read a number of his books including Lynchpin and most recently, The Icarus Deception, the book this event was based on.

Seth has inspired me for a number of years so I was keen to see him live. I wasn’t disappointed.

The Icarus Deception deals with the fact that we are living in a revolution and that most people are struggling to see it. We are moving from an Industrial Economy (think big brands, big spends, loud marketing noise) where everything revolves around greater efficiency, cheaper products and where people are pushed to be average, to what Seth terms the Connection Economy where the connections you make and the opportunities you take to create ‘Art’ will be the most important element to your success in the future. The problem is, not enough people create art.

So what is art? Art is something new. Art is being different. Art is something you made before others. Art is something you probably tried to create time and time again, not being afraid to fail along the way. Are you making art?

A particular theme that interested me is that as we grow up we’re taught not to make art. Schools are there to teach us to stand in straight lines, to conform, not to speak up but to go through the system – junior school, high school, university, job. When are we told its ok to make a ruckus? I certainly can’t remember being given that instruction. The title of the book, the Icarus Deception refers to the Greek myth about Icarus who was taught, while attempting to escape from Crete, not to fly too close to the sun or his wings would burn and he’d fall into the sea. Of lesser mention is the fact he was also taught not to fly to close to the sea or the mist from the water would make his wings too heavy and the same fate would occur. Where are we teaching future generations to fly? Higher than ever or within their comfort zones, where its nice and safe?

A fascinating story using the company Lego was used as means of an example. Allegedly they were suffering grave problems back in the 80’s/90’s, as they stuck to their belief that every product they made should be able to be used for at least two different things. We were told the company was almost bought to its knees until one of its team came up with the idea of selling lego model kits that children (and I’m sure a few adults) could put together themselves. The company was saved and why? Because kids want to follow instructions, to make something perfectly, NOT to make art, NOT to stand up with something new and different and say, “I made this”

So what does it take to make art then? It takes the willingness to fail, over and over again (something I wrote about here). It takes grit and determination. It takes the need to overcome your ‘lizard brain’ and when others say you can’t do it, to carry on. It takes the ability to dance with fear (a favourite phrase of mine) and be ok with ‘this might not work’.

The Icarus Deception is a fascinating book and one that I’m excited about sharing. I for one embrace the connection economy. Am I creating art? Maybe not enough, but I intend to challenge myself with this question on a regular basis.

Are you creating art? If so, please share it with us, after all, an important part of this economy is to be able to stand up and say, ‘I made this’, whatever others say.

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The Secret to Great Customer Service

The Secret to Great Customer Service

Be where your customers are… Mind-blowing isn’t it. I hope I didn’t set your expectations too high with that title! :)

When I’m discussing social media communications with clients, one of the concerns they often have is that their customers may not be active in these spaces. It’s a valid point and one that is worth spending some time on. I was recently talking to a client of ours in the plant hire business. They weren’t sure if Twitter was going to be of use to them as a business. As we discussed this in their boardroom, a client of theirs pulled up outside in a van and walked into the hire showroom. This was clearly a ‘man and his van’ outfit. Lets call him Derek’s Diggers for the purpose of this post.

Derek and his small business are going through a tough time at the moment. Work is not easy to come by, there is an awful lot of competition and he needs as many ways of reaching his target audience as possible. You can bet he is probably networking, putting leaflets through doors, maybe cold calling and in this day and age if he isn’t active on sites like Twitter yet, you can bet he will be within a year or so. For the small to medium business without large marketing budgets, social media is seen as a relatively cost effective way of marketing. In the majority of cases these sites have free signup so Derek can start to build his following and create business opportunities in a tough market.

I asked my client if they had an email database of their clients? The answer was yes… I went onto explain that looking after clients in social media space provided another, excellent way of reaching out to these important people. By finding and following these companies/individuals on sites like Twitter, they could spend time understanding their prospects businesses, adding value to the relationship with them and ultimately build stronger and better relationships. The penny started to drop.

Your clients may or may not be on sites like Twitter and Facebook, Google + or LinkedIn, but before you discount any of them from your comms mix, make sure you spend time finding out. I truly believe its hard to put a value on retention of current clients, not to mention finding the new opportunities that lie within these exciting online platforms.

Why not spend some time today seeing who’s active locally on Twitter: https://twitter.com/search - Use the advanced options to play with your postcode settings. Try your clients names, both personal and company (I find searching for these in Google is often easier than Twitter itself). Once you’ve found your clients, put them into a list using a tool like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite and keep a close eye on what they are saying, so you can be the first to congratulate/help/just say hi occasionally. Do the same on LinkedIn, Facebook and G+ and I assure you, you’ll reap the rewards over the long haul.

Now Your Thoughts

•    Where do you find the majority of your clients hang out? Is one platform better than another for you?
•    Do you have any other tips for client retention?

Luck or Hard Work?

Luck or Hard Work?

A few days ago I was talking to a potential supplier for my wedding next year. Somehow conversation turned to their website and we got chatting about their overall, online presence. Conversation then turned to the challenges  they have (needing more traffic, spending too much on adwords, no way of emailing their database easily) I offered up a bit of free advice and naturally this lead on to what I did for a living (they didn’t know until this point). It transpired that they’d been wondering what to do about their site for some time now, so applying the ‘don’t ask, don’t get principal’ I asked if we could perhaps quote for their digital work. They said they’d be delighted for us to do so.

My partner and I have a bit of a running joke that I somehow manage to turn normal conversations with people in my personal life into work related ones, which in turn, often end up with opportunities for my business. She turned to me on this occasion as we got back into the car, and said ‘you really are so lucky‘.

Now I have a strong belief that this isn’t luck. Why? I believe that as a business owner/entrepreneur/salesperson/whatever you want to call yourself, you constantly have to have your antenna up, open to opportunities. If you’re doing this regularly enough then its merely a matter of time before one of these opportunities comes off. Some might even call it a game of numbers!

So the old adage, ‘you make your own luck’ is, in my opinion, a very true one.

New to business? In Sales? Consistently put yourself in situations where opportunities arise and when they do, grasp them with all you’ve got. I can promise you it works, I practice what I preach :)

Now Your Thoughts

  • Got any stories which felt a little bit like fate/right place-right time?

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Honesty is the best policy, Transparency is the key

Honesty is the best policy, Transparency is the key

Yesterday I was lucky enough to watch a presentation from a client and friend of Optix who has taken his business from a couple of million turnover to 30+ in just 6-7 years. Oh and the best bit – he only has around 40 staff. He talked about his meteoric growth and the lessons they learnt along the way. Some of the stories were gob smacking to say the least.

I live to learn from people like this. I think anyone who can’t sit and soak in that kind of information is missing such a trick. If you get the chance to talk to people who’ve ‘been there, done that’ take it with open arms, you’ll learn so much.

One thing that shone through from his presentation was the need to be transparent and honest in business. He particularly referenced his relationship with his bank manager which I thought was interesting. If anything goes financially wrong in his business he explains it straight away to their bank and similarly, he shares good news too. He feels strongly that this honest and transparent relationship means that when it comes to needing help then everyone knows the score and he’s more likely to get it. I can see his logic and while I have a great relationship with my bank manager, its probably not as solid as his is – something I’ve taken away to work on.
If you make a mistake, own up. Face it down and deal with it. Sticking your head in the sand or trying to hide something or worse hoping no one finds out will lead you down a dark path, one where you’re bound to be found out and everything will look worse on you if you choose that route.

If you’re starting in business make it your mantra, if you’ve been going a while, perhaps you need to revisit your thoughts on this and make sure your team(s) sing from the same sheet. My team at Optix know my feelings on being transparent and see-through. I believe in this digitally connected world, there is no place for business with dirty laundry.

photo courtesy of Urbanshoregirl

Now Your Thoughts

  • I’m very interested to hear if you have stories where you’ve owned up to a mistake and it’s paid off hugely.

8 of my top articles, all in one place…

8 of my top articles, all in one place…

One of the things its easy to forget when you’ve been blogging for a long time is all the great posts and content you’ve put together over the years. All that effort you put in, potentially lost in the mists of time.

Unless a user finds your posts by a search engine, its unlikely they’ll navigate back over years worth of content – lets face it, who has the time for that?

There is an easy solution to this though – A ’round up’ post. A collection of posts from your blog linked to from another post just like this. It could be your ‘favourite 5 articles’, ’7 posts you’ve written on a  particular topic’, it could just be a random mixture you want to highlight for another reason.

So with that in mind, here is one from me.

I use a tool called Postrank (owned by Google) to help me work out which of my posts are well received and which flop. It scores on all sorts of metrics like comments/shares etc…

So here are my top 8 posts of all time according to my post rank stats – enjoy:

1). Here’s a great way to loose some customers – I got quite miffed one holiday in Cornwall a year or so ago and decided to rant a little on my blog. Right or wrong, this post topped the charts!

2). Do what you do best and delegate the rest – A post about my framework for delegation, essential as your company grows.

3). 7 Super useful resources for busy business owners – Gotta love a list of useful resources. It seems other people did too.

4). Facebook Places – Are you Aware – One of my most commented on posts so it clearly hit a nerve. A post about thinking before you ‘check-in’

5). If I were a solicitor… – Here’s a post for all solicitors thinking about how to use social media. Loads of great ideas, crowd-sourced from others as well.

6). The sale ain’t made ‘til the bill is paid! – Putting together a policy on money and collecting it is essential to any business, large or small. This post gives some hints and tips on this topic.

7). 5 traits successful business owners have – This one got a lot of traction. The title speaks for itself.

8). Cash Flow is King! Guide to setting up a cash flow forecast - My most visited post (and one of my oldest) by a long way. It proves that if you give a bit of value away you get search engine listings and lots of traffic in return.

Now Your Thoughts

  • If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog and have others you think I’ve missed out please do highlight them.
  • Have you thought about doing a round up post yourself? Its really quite fun to reminisce…

Photo courtesy of Fabio Marini under creative commons

p.s You can now add your email address to my ‘newsletter’ signup. I’ll be adding value to this group of people as often as possible – they will receive things from me that others don’t have access to, so please signup today.



p.p.s. If you like what you’ve read here then you should sign up to my RSS feed and every time I update this site the post will be sent to your reader automatically.

When I grow Up…

When I grow Up…

When I was growing up there were a number of people in my life that I looked up to – family members, inspirational teachers, sports stars and family friends all featured. When I consider the person I am today – my morals, my feelings towards others, my views on business and so much more I can see elements of these people in me.

Without realising it, I have become a product of my environment. As I’ve grown up I’ve continued to seek out new role models and people that I aspire to be like or learn something from. I’m sure a few of you probably put names like Branson, Steve Jobs, maybe even Lord Sugar in your role model lists but sometimes it’s the people that are on your door step that have the most to offer.

My Dad plays a huge part in my business life – I bounce ideas off him regularly, he chairs one of my companies boards as a non-exec. He is there for me when I need that experience and I’ve often said that if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I can never thank him enough for that.

I’m lucky that my job takes me into hundreds of businesses as a consultant and trusted advisor. I get to meet more people running businesses around the country than I ever dreamed I would have done. Every person I meet is an opportunity to learn. Every now and then I meet someone I know I can learn a lot from and I make it my business to do so. I ask questions, I show interest, I forget my path for that moment and concentrate on others. I wholeheartedly encourage you to do the same.

There are a few people I’d like to pay special tribute to (business wise). Maybe you could consider doing the same today.

Ken Rudge – A good friend and businessman who lives and works in Devon. A very sensible head on him and doesn’t pull any punches.

James Trebble – Never have I met anyone who is so positive. Whatever life throws at this serial entrepreneur, he gets up, dusts down and gets on with it. An absolute delight to spend time with, everyone needs a JT in their life.

*Worth noting here that myself, James and Ken take a day a quarter out of our businesses to get together and talk about challenges, set goals and think about the next big thing for our companies – this is absolute gold dust.

James Dawkins – My business partner for 12 years. We might bicker every now and then but we’ve never fallen out and in 12 years I think that’s pretty impressive. He’s the ying to my yang (soppy I know!).

Nick Sprague – Ultra successful businessman and philanthropist. I think it’s important to have business goals in life and and mine are based on what this man has achieved. Not only does he have a number of successful businesses but he enjoys life, helps charities (even setup his own: http://www.parabottle.co.uk) and has a wonderful home life. If I’m where Nick is in a few years, I’ll be a very happy man.

My list could easily go on…

In my opinion its vital to surround yourself with successful and positive people. Role models are so important to have. If you’ve not done it already, seek yours out and make them a part of what you do.

Now Your Thoughts

  • Who inspires you? Give them a shout out on this blog. They deserve the recognition right?
  • How much of an impact did your childhood role models have on you?

Stop the Sabotage

Stop the Sabotage

I’m not sure why I find myself talking about hotels again is a disdainful manner, but that’s just the way it goes I guess. These are places which are supposed to hold the highest regard for customer service – it’s what much of their success is based upon.

So today I witnessed one of the worst cases of business sabotage I can ever imagine. It literally put shivers down my spine to think of my staff ever doing something similar (I know you wouldn’t by the way guys!!)

I’m standing at the reception of a well respected and fairly top end hotel in Exeter. There is a well-to-do lady talking to the man behind the reception desk. I’m not really a nosy person but I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. This is where the unimaginable happens.

The lady is asking the guy about hotel rates, she’s foreign by the way. The guy, seemingly uninterested responds ‘well it’s cheaper in the week than at the weekend’. The lady responds politely, ‘thats understandable, I’m enquiring for my daughter who would like to stay for quite some time’ – BINGO – Music to anyone’s ears surely…not this guy. He asks how long she’d be planning to stay and the lady responds ‘at least three weeks at first’. This is where it gets really silly. The guy then says to her: ‘Oh if its that long you better do it online as you might get a better deal there’!!!

Folks lets analyze this for a minute – you have a potential punter standing in front of you with their wallet open and ready to sign themselves up for a very long time – I’m guessing this is worth thousands of pounds to this hotel and what do they do, tell them to look online as it might be cheaper. Jeez – If it were me and it really were cheaper online (and by the way I doubt it very much) I’d walk them to the hotels computer and help them look myself. My guess is that it was too much work for this guy, perhaps he’d had a bad day or couldn’t be bothered with this one lady as it sounded like a bit too much work.

My guess is this woman (clearly in a foreign country) will not bother going online but will probably walk down the road to one of the many other great hotels in town. I know I would.

That guy has potentially cost his company thousands of pounds and doesn’t even care. As business owners, what can we do to make sure that our staff are not doing the same to us? Do they care about your business? Do they worry about losing money making opportunities as you do or is it just another job?

Watch out folks – I bet this hotel didn’t even realise that this was going on. Are you certain it’s not happening to you?

Now Your Thoughts

  • Could I be going OTT because I’m naturally a sales person and can’t stand to see a sale lost?
  • What measures do you have in place to stop this complacency in your business?