6 Keys to Good Networking

MP900382854Regardless of business endeavor, meeting people and making new acquaintances is an increasingly important job skill.  Good networking forges relationships that are mutually helpful and beneficial whether or not one is involved in market research, market planning, public relations, advertising, sales or any other related activity that involves meeting people and expanding business contacts.

Despite its obvious importance, it is often the least well-implemented tool in a marketer’s kit.  Reasons for that vary, but experts say many people simply find it difficult to meet strangers and “ask for the sale” – whether that be a referral, recommendation, direction – or the actual sale.

Numerous sales training professionals have programs and methods to help people develop better networking skills, and nearly all have some elements in common.  Here are six basic keys to better networking:

Be Precise & Have an Objective

Ask for the result you want.  Don’t leave it to chance that a contact is going to surmise your need – and willingly provide exactly what you need.  Of course you don’t ask for something that’s beyond what someone you’ve just met will provide, but ask yourself: “Why are you networking and what would you like to achieve?”

Keep it simple.  You’re meeting people for the first time, so keep it light but focused.  If you have a typical profile in mind – then seek it.  If there’s a particular company exec you would like to meet – then seek contacts who can facilitate that eventual meeting.

Determine Who Can Help

Who can help you with your objective?  Does the person have the ability to make the connection, or can he or she lead to someone who can?  Are they willing to do so?

A common mistake people make is to exceed the capacity of a new contact’s willingness to help – or “over-ask.”  So don’t.  Instead, get to know the person.  Ask questions about them, their interests, and if they know anyone else at the event.

Align Your “Ask” to Their Capability

If the person can’t directly lead you to your objective, determine what they CAN lead you to.  Remember you’re networking – so network.  A new contact might not be able to help you today – but perhaps they can tomorrow.

You should also be contacting regularly – and a person who might not be able to help you just might be in a position to assist someone you know, or vice-versa.  Networking is a 2-way street, so good networkers look for opportunities to help others.

Ask for What You Need

At this point, you’ve learned a little about them.  Now, find out about their needs.  Offer any suggestions and / or display a willingness to assist them.  Typically, people will respond in kind and ask how they might assist you.

If they don’t, let them know by offering the same kind of information they provided in response to your casual questions about their needs.

Be considerate

In an appropriate way, show appreciation for the effort or help a contact has provided.  This is dependent on your personal style and the level of support provided.  A simple email or phone call will often suffice – but whatever you do, be sincere.

Maintain the Connection

Contacts are valuable – so keep in touch with the people you meet.  Remember – you’re building a network.  Maintain contact through an occasional email, phone call, or get-together for coffee or lunch.  As hard as it often is to network and build contacts – make an effort to keep them.

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Claiming the Premium Market Position

Increased competition and consolidations among component manufacturers in the North American automotive replacement parts market have created an urgent need to maintain a market leadership position among customers.

Now is the perfect time for aftermarket parts manufacturers to lay claim to their respective premium replacement product(s) categories and launch an aftermarket name brand assault.  Establishing a brand as top-of-class quality can be as simple as saying it – assuming that the brand does, indeed have premium quality and can back up that claim.

Once a company decides this is the proper direction for a brand, claiming the premium position should be backed up with all company communications to the market including advertising, marketing, public relations, sales force, web site, even business cards.  Once a brand has been established as the lead, it becomes difficult for other companies to dispute.

Claim your position today.

Marketing Strategies for Today’s Economic Climate

9 strategies to help stretch your marketing dollar

As we head into Q4, business executives remain hopeful that the worst of the recession is behind us, and despite the many questions regarding the impact of policies being implemented or considered, smart American business leaders know they must look forward and find solutions.  While the urge to “sit and wait” for clarity is strong – and the norm in many places — the reality is that business goes on.  Markets continue to evolve, and competition does not stand still for indecision.

While some functions can and should be delayed, others – such as marketing – should not be.  A company’s hard-earned position in the industry, reputation and all things “brand” continue to be earned, refreshed, and solidified – by design and direct action, or by random occurrence through inaction.  The race goes on, whether the runners know it or not.

The challenge for many marketers becomes a question of how to maximize the effect of marketing and support activities when resources continue to be lean.  Different organizations will have different “go-to-market” processes and so will prioritize in varying ways, but focused attention in 9 key areas can help the majority of businesses make the most of their efforts and dollars.

Target your effortSpend your money where it matters – focused on the people who buy your products or services.  Ads or outreach activities aimed at non-buyers are not targeted effectively and won’t “move the needle.”  Conversely, a campaign that’s targeted on your customers or their influencers will consistently produce strong results.

Be repetitious and consistentAmong the keys to successful marketing communications activities are maintaining frequency and being consistent.  This is especially so in downturn periods.  On-again, off-again budgets drive on-again, off-again efforts and in the eyes of most audiences, indicate a number of things – none of them good.

Such efforts drive speculation about a company’s staying power and competence, and speak to a company’s vision.  A company with a vision and a plan gets and stays on a consistent path.  Those companies are seen as survivors and their customers perceive a sound approach.  Other companies are perceived as not “walking the talk” and jeopardize their credibility at the worst possible time.

Consistent budgets drive consistent efforts – so resist the urge to cut marketing budgets. Use the budget to maintain the visibility your stakeholders and customers expect.  Shift budget from non-producing efforts and apply them to things that work for you.

Leverage your budget – integrate activities — don’t focus efforts on individual activities or efforts that are not coordinated.  Whether its traditional or online advertising, special events or media outreach – you will achieve significantly greater results by integrating your activities.  Your marketing communications activities are like an orchestra – and you are its conductor.  The different parts support one another and leverage individual success into a larger organizational effort.  Your activities will be recognized for their cohesion and by communicating with “one voice” – your message will ring clearly in the market place.

Quality Trumps QuantitySo keep your focus on quality.  When times are tough and your competitors are shaving costs across the board – let them.  Maintain your standards and offer the same quality in your products, services – and your marketing communications.  Your customers are already looking for greater value and will fill any void created by your less astute competitors.  Let them!

Push and Pull Your Way to Success “Push” marketing includes direct mail, email marketing, and the like.  “Pull” marketing is bringing potential customers in to your website – or causing them to phone you from a variety of places that can include advertising, search engine listings and other such vehicles.  Recognize the dual nature of your lead-generating activities and look for advertising or other marketing service providers that already have your target audiences in the cross hairs.

Seek Assistance from Media Partners – Your success is their success.  They know it and will be eager to help you!  They’ll know things you don’t and many times won’t know how to help, or even that you would welcome it – so talk with them, ask questions and reach out.  In addition to their expertise typically surpassing your own – they generally work more cost-effectively.  Ask yourself if your time is best spent monitoring metrics or web effectiveness for 2 hours a day – or better spent managing those areas and driving larger success.  Think of your time as the critical and finite resource it is; and consider your media partners as resources there to help you.

Benchmark Good Ideas – and learn from others – A wise man once said, “Good ideas are where we find them.”  There are plenty of smart people out there today and many more in our past.  While technology drives incredible change – many of the challenges we face are ones that have been faced before.  Research your challenges.  See how others have overcome them and learn from their experience.

Assess Effectiveness …Measure Performance – Metrics are a good thing.  You don’t need to buy a sophisticated package or the latest whiz-bang program.  Develop your own.  Measure what you determine to be necessary for your success, keep it simple and focus on improving in those areas.  For your online activities, you’ll want to hire someone or a firm with the experience to decipher your analytics and dial-in an effective online program.  It is money well-spent.

Incorporate changes quickly – when metrics or changing conditions warrant a shift in tactics – implement the change quickly.  If you wait for the perfect solution – or until the next quarter, you’ll likely be passed by the competition.  Sometimes you’ll have all the verification you’ll need, but most times, you won’t.  This is especially true in marketing activities and more so during uncertain times or challenging environments.

Remember too – there is always merit in a calculated gamble. If the potential is great and the risk is acceptable, why delay?  Similarly, if your organization can learn to be nimble, you will be able to take advantage of rapid changes in circumstances and the opportunities they bring.  Make challenges things you simply adapt and overcome.

Marketing Metrics and ROI

j0434829In the course of a new business meeting earlier in the week, I became engaged in a conversation about marketing communications metrics.  I greatly enjoy such conversations because we have a wonderful model of integrated metrics tracking that is downright exciting for those interested in such things and never fails to fuel a conversation on the topic.    

On the heels of that conversation, an article came my way talking about metrics, ROI, and various techniques used in healthcare marketing.  Given the earlier discussion, it piqued my interest so I plunged in.  The article proved to be well-written, very broad, chock full of input from various “experts” and devoid of any “so what” or actionable takeaway. 

It struck me as something to share internally as an example of an intelligent-sounding article on metrics that hits on a lot of buzz, but says nothing concrete.  About the only thing useful – from a 50,000 foot level – was buried somewhere near the middle in a quote by one of the experts” who basically said metrics should be tailored to need.   Unfortunately, much of what we see regarding marketing metrics and marketing in general seems much the same – a lot of sizzle and splash, newspeak and nodding heads, but little substance.  In my opinion, the prevalence of such things cloud understanding of the issue and curtail frank, inquiring discussion at best.  

People who “should” know all about these things fear appearing as if they don’t and so fundamental questions remain un-asked, assumptions aren’t challenged, prevailing attitudes are accepted, the boat isn’t rocked and on we go.  In that environment, basic misunderstanding grows, mistakes are made and the process gets repeated – even institutionalized. 

The only good metric is a useful one…

Our approach toward metrics in general is that they are most useful when they’re: tailored to client objectives, provide insights into effective direction and are actionable.

 

We point out these requirements whenever the discussion turns to metrics or ROI with the added caveat that metrics need to be simple to understand and track.  Which leads to something else: in both the article and in conversations, we’ve also noticed there is often confusion between “metrics” and “data.”  In my mind, data is useful and if budgets allow – always a good thing.  Metrics are forms of measure. 

 

In addition to basic misunderstanding, confusion comes when tracking online activity for example.  Is it a metric – or is it data?  One could say both.  Certainly it’s a handy activity to track, but if considered a metric, then what’s its worth if not tied to a means of manipulating the outcome toward the achievement of something that furthers a company’s objectives?  So then, data is information.  Metrics are tools tied to outcome that allow us to take effective action when needed.  

 

To be useful, the tracking of online behavior should link back to effect the desired behavior or outcome.  Otherwise, such activity too often becomes “pursuit of the month.” 

Strategies are hatched, agencies are aligned, programs are designed and launched, metrics are captured, a flag is stuck in the ground and victory is proclaimed.  Unfortunately the results produced are often dubious at best and the lingering effects of such actions tend to be harmful to an organization.  The real tragedy is that most organizations miss the fallacy of a process they continue repeating.  

 

The auto industry we know so well, is rife with examples.  Consider GM’s ongoing experiment with all things “brand.” 

 

Perhaps 15 or so years ago, “brand managers” were brought in from other industries in order to boost car sales through implementation of “brand strategies” and techniques in place within the consumer products industry – notably at P&G. 

 

Thinking changed, direction changed; young, new “gurus” were given free rein to implement new marketing activities affecting virtually all of GM’s line.  Did it work?  Well, that’s a multi-faceted question, but many would say “It didn’t help.”   Given the profound (read “faulty”) mindset change such thinking drove, it was downright harmful.

 

Cars became “products,” nameplates became “brands,” the car companies themselves became “brands,” “brandspeak” became lotus leaves and many bought into the  illusion.  Customers who simply wanted “cars” become confused with all the hype and the dizzying array of offerings. 

 

Toyota, Honda and others kept to the basics of building what consumers wanted: cars that were well-made, provided reliable transportation, were fun and looked good.   

 

Not to say they didn’t pay attention to research, new marketing techniques and metrics – of course they did.  However, I would argue that they kept a pragmatic balance, an end-goal and their customers in mind, while their competitors rushed from brandspeak “fad-to-fad.”  It’s clear which companies had more success and built the more loyal customer bases.

 

I’ll never forget when Chevrolet launched the Lumina in the late 80s.  At significant cost, Chevrolet purchased the rights to use Disney characters in ads promoting the new vehicle.  At the time, I read their thinking was to link the wholesomeness of Disney characters to the new car in an effort to connect it to families.  Somehow, families in the market for a car would be drawn to the new vehicle because of its association with Disney characters and their high regard for the family values of Disney.

 

At the time, I worked at a firm involved in the launch of the Lumina.  I had driven the car and thought it was poor in comparison to other offerings then on the market.  I remember thinking the money spent on a Disney link could have been well spent on building a better product and touting things potential buyers wanted.  At any rate, the Disney ads were soon dropped, the Lumina was never considered a “hot” seller and never sold in the volumes desired.  Today it’s gone.

 

The point is that all too often we get carried away with marketing newspeak, unproven-but-cool-sounding approaches and the application of new technologies and  tactics we don’t take the time to think about or understand.  Too often, we take a short-term view instead of the more strategic action that furthers accomplishment of a long-term and often bigger objective.

 

Meanwhile, wiser marketers “think” before they “do,” apply common sense instead of delegating to the “experts” and implement activities with the correct end goal in mind.  After the hubris has faded, they tend to be the winners. 

 

Constructive accountability is an added factor that comes into play… but that’s a stand-alone issue for another discussion.

Effective Communication Requires Discipline, Practice and the Ability to Listen

As professional communicators, the majority of us spend our waking hours communicating with others, but not in a meaningful manner that makes us successful communicators.  Effective communication requires discipline, practice and most importantly, the ability to listen.

 

The following six-step approach to effective communicating should help you streamline your thoughts, words and actions and help to become a more effective communicator in the spoken, printed and electronic communication world. 

 

  1. What is your purpose for communicating?  Define it.  Are you only sharing information?  Or do you need action?  If so, what action and by when?  Or, do you have intent, such as a call to action?
  2. Respect for your audience.  Are you being clear and concise?  Are you avoiding industry jargon that may confuse your recipients?  Are you pushing information, i.e., “selling and telling” or pulling information, i.e., “asking and engaging?”  For example, do you give others a chance to join your conversation?  Do you listen?  Do you want to listen?  Do you really hear?
  3. Simplicity.  Is your message easy to access?  For instance, can people simply skim your email messages to find the key information, or are they faced with a “wall of words” that they have to sort through?  Are your messages timely?  Do people know how to get in touch with you for more details or where to go for more information?  Are you making sure you’re not contributing to the problem of more information overload?  (Twitter?)
  4. Be a credible source.  Are you portraying through your oral and written communication that you are to be believable and trusted?  Are you doing what you say you will do?  Consistently?
  5. Provide value.  Are you communicating the topic in a way that appeals to people’s interests?  Are you giving them just-in-time information that will help them do their job or solve their problem?  Will they know how to act on the information?
  6. Have fun.  After all, communication is about exchanging ideas, learning new things, meeting new people.  All of this should be fun.  If communication ceases to be fun, then you are not effectively communicating.  Start having some fun today.

For Business, Public Relations is Becoming an Increasingly Vital Tool

How can we, as public relations practitioners, get a message across to our clients, and potential clients, that speed-to-market, reach, market intelligence stakeholder engagement and objective expertise are the essence of our DNA and more importantly, essential for business success? 

Interestingly, in January Advertising Age magazine predicted that public relations/crisis communications would be among the bright spots in 2009.  B2B magazine also claimed that business-to-business marketers were increasingly turning to public relations for support even as overall budgets are being reduced.  Without seeing the data – we think this makes sense.

 

In 2005, Proctor & Gamble conducted a landmark study involving a marketing mix model for six of their brands over a one to three year period.  P&G found the following:

 

§      PR drives sales, often on a par with advertising

§      PR delivers stellar ROI (275%), much greater than advertising

§      PR provides a halo effect over other marketing tactics

 

These findings coincide with P2R’s experience, especially with respect to public relations delivering a better return on investment and providing a halo effect.  Our guess is that public relations’ greater credibility is the reason.  For consumers and an ever-more news hungry population, credibility seems increasingly to be the tool-of-choice for breaking through what has become a cacophony of marketing messages.  Research bears this out in yet another example.

 

A 2006 survey of marketers conducted by The Association of National Advertisers (ANA), ranked public relations number one in terms of its overall value to the enterprise.  Additionally, The Economist magazine stated, “For business, public relations is an increasingly vital marketing tool – especially as traditional forms of advertising struggle to catch consumers’ attention.” 

 

At P2R Associates – we’re delighted to see that what many have known for a long time is becoming a growing awareness.  Three major industry publications and a marketing giant all believe that public relations holds the key to helping businesses compete and succeed in these trying economic times. 

 

It is important that agencies trust their judgment, get back to the basics, focus on their strengths, then identify what works and move forward.  We need to communicate results and show both existing and prospective clients how public relations impacts business and contributes to bottom line success – however difficult it might appear to be to do so.