Ignorance Fire

Is Ignorance on Fire Ever a Good Thing?

Ignorance on fire

The following video is part of my new “Ivanism” Garage to Global series, hosted by Entrepreneur.com, where I expand on catch phrases I have used frequently over the years.

 

I know, it’s a strange concept: “Ignorance on fire is better than knowledge on ice.”

Most people read that statement and think, someone who’s excited but ignorant can do more harm than good.

I’m here to tell you that the opposite of your intuition is true. That’s right–and you’ll see why below.

 

Three Things Your Business Degree Didn’t Teach You

graduatingOne common misconception among business people, especially those new to the field, is that a bachelor’s degree in marketing or business will provide all the necessary skills to own, operate, or work in a business of any size.

Time and again I’ve seen men and women struggle in business, flabbergasted because they followed the steps taught to them as undergraduates. It isn’t until they get involved in post-degree programs specifically geared toward advanced business techniques, or professional organizations like BNI or the Referral Institute, that they pick up these three concepts that are truly paramount in business.

 

Social Capital

Relationships, and their potential value, are vital in business. These relationships can be in our personal or professional networks, but both can lead to business opportunities, quality referrals, new and innovative ideas, someone to bounce ideas off of, and ultimately, increased business success.

As you build relationships, identify their strengths and weaknesses and focus on fostering the weaknesses. While it can be counter-intuitive to focus on anything other than your business when trying to help it grow, putting effort into your relationships will ultimately lead to greater business success.

 

Emotional Intelligence

The ability to identify, assess and control one’s own emotions, as well as an astute awareness of the emotions of others improves communication in all facets of life and can up one’s connection game. In fact, studies show that a higher emotional quotient (EQ) can help develop more social capital.

When you can learn how individuals around you respond to you, and cater your interactions to the individual person, you will see the positive response received hit the roof. While not rocket science, it can be challenging, so as you work to develop your EQ don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen immediately.

 

Networking

You knew it was going here. This critically important business skill is grossly under-represented in higher education. This proficiency combines the elements of emotional intelligence and social capital, and is an important tool to have in your wheelhouse.

The vast majority of businesspeople say that in some form or fashion, they have gained some success through networking, and this isn’t a coincidence. Those who haven’t found networking success likely haven’t built a strong foundation of social capital and emotional intelligence, as networking is simply the mechanism used to combine word-of-mouth techniques and social capital.

 

In the same way businesses who refuse to adopt cutting-edge technology begin to fall to the wayside and face difficulties, business school graduates (and the schools they hail from) who do not adopt these lessons into their curriculum in some ways will quickly find themselves outdated and outpaced.

Are there other vital business skills you feel aren’t taught in general business education? How did you pick up those skills? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave your comment in the forum below! Thanks!

Have You Created an Identity for Your Business?

If someone asked you what your business’ identity is, would you be able to give them a clear answer?  If not, now is definitely the time to give some thought to how you can create an identity and an image for your business that will work for you around the clock.  Why is this important?  Because, as Jeff Davidson, author of Marketing on a Shoestring says, “The age of the image is here.  From corporations to individuals, the imapact of image is irrefutable . . . the success of your business, whether large or small, often depends on how you position yourself and what you project.”BusinessIdentityQuestion

Positioning can help you create an identity and maintain a secure spot in the minds of those you wish to serve, and I believe the first step to positioning your business is deciding:

  • What you’re going to be
  • What you’re going to offer
  • To whom you’re going to offer it

The concept of positioning was actually popularized decades ago in the early 1980s by Al Ries and Jack Trout.  They observed, “In our over-communicated society, very little communication takes place.”  A company must create a position in the prospect’s mind, recognizing that the most effective communication occurs when optimally placed and timed.

Being the “first” remains one of the quickest and easiest ways to gain a position in someone’s mind.  Who was the first person to walk on the moon?  If you said Neil Armstrong, you are correct.  Now, name any of the astronauts who walked on the moon’s surface on the other NASA moon missions.  Not so easy, is it?  If you’re like most people, you probably have no idea.

When you are properly positioned, you save time because others quickly understand what your company represents and offers.  With positioning, each networking encounter, advertisement, message, employee, and every square inch of floor or office space contributes to the delivery of a consistent theme to the target market.

The identity you develop may be right only for you and for no one else.  You may become the leader in an emerging industry, or a highly successful alternative to the leading company.  You may be the only store open for twenty-four hours or the most exclusive shop in town, exhibiting wares by appointment only.  In the highly competitive, swiftly changing environment which we exist in today, creating an identity that sticks in the mind of others is no longer optional but essential.  

So, challenge yourself this week to do some research on creating an identity for your business.  Start by answering the three bullet point questions above, and then carve out time each day to spend time reading books on the subject or Googling articles on how to create a business identity, brand, and image.  There is an endless array of  helpful business articles available on the internet surrounding this topic.  If you simply spend the time to do the research, I’m willing to bet you’ll come up with a clear answer for people on what your business identity is within a week!

If you have already created an identity for your business, I’d love for you to share about it in the comment forum below.  Let us know what your business identity is and how you went about creating it–I’m very interested to hear your story.  Thanks! 

How to Zero in on the Benefits of Your Business

Last week I wrote a blog explaining the importance of focusing on the benefits of your products or services (as opposed to the features of your products/services) when communicating with networking partners and potential customers.

Once you have a good understanding of the difference between benefits and features, you can begin zeroing in on the benefits of your business.  In order to do this, your first task is to focus on your best customers.  What problems were they experiencing before they came to you?  What problems did you solve for them?  How did you make their lives easier?  The answers to these questions will begini to connect you with their motives for buying your products or services.  You provided some value to them that was significant enough to cause them to spend their money.  What was it?

An additional task this week is to create a list of the features versus the benefits of just one product or service you offer.  On a sheet of paper, make two columns–one column with the heading “FEATURE of This Product or Service” and the other column with the heading “BENEFIT of This Feature.”

Once you’ve completed this list, begin to include the language of your benefits in your messages to your marketing team, to prospects, and while networking.  It would be a good idea to eventually complete this list for each of your products or services because the more you can communicate the benefits of your products/services, the more people will see the value of what your business provides.

Come back next week to learn how to simplify your message and make it more specific and, in the meantime, I’d love to hear from you in regard to any questions you may have about benefits vs. features and/or get your thoughts on what you may have learned or realized about the true benefits of your products/services through creating your features vs. benefits list.  Please share your questions/thoughts in the comment forum below.  Thanks!

 

Can You Pinpoint the Benefits of Your Product or Service?

Sales training often teaches us that customers make buying decisions based on (1) their emotions (“Sell the sizzle, not the steak!”) and (2) the value the product or service brings to them.  Marketing specialists capitalize on customers’ emotion-based buying habits.  Customers choose a product or service based on its benefits, not its features.  The features are simply the bare-bones facts–the elements or significant parts–of the product or service.  The benefits are its value to the customer–how it will solve their problems, eliminate their pain, and make life glorious.

Image courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To understand the difference between features and benefits, let’s think about a car:

Features of a car

  • V-6 engine, dual exhaust, front-wheel drive, sunroof, significant interior legroom, heated seats, heated glass

Benefits of those features

  • V-6 engine–ability to pull onto the highway without hesitation (and to impress your friends)
  • Dual exhausts–higher fuel efficiency and more power (and it sounds groovy and also impresses your friends)
  • Front-wheel drive–more interior room because of the lack of a driveshaft tunnel
  • Sunroof–the open feel of a convertible with the safety and security of a sedan
  • Legroom–greater comfort while driving long distances and more room for your growing family
  • Heated seats–cozy motoring on frigid days and nights; greater back comfort on long-distance trips
  • Heated glass–the convenience of not having to scrape icy windows in the winter

The more perceived value a benefit offers, the higher it gets ranked in your decision to purchase.  Objectively, a sunroof is not a significant feature, but if it makes you feel a bit like a race car driver, perhaps that benefit raises its value for you.  Heated seats are nice too, but they might not rank high in value for to people who live in a warm climate and wouldn’t strongly influence their buying decision.  The benefits of dual exhausts, however, might have perceived value for all buyers–better fuel efficiency, more power, and a sound like your beloved but departed ’57 Chevy.

What does all this have to do with your referral marketing message?  Simply this:  Most businesspeople, without thinking about it, talk in terms of features.  As professional experts and salespeople, that’s what they’re most familiar with.  They’re not accustomed to looking at their products or services from a customer’s perspective.

In formulating the message you want your networking partners to convey, your challenge is to put yourself in the customer’s place.  What are the benefits of your product or service?  How will it make the customer’s life or business easier, more comfortable, more satisfying, more profitable?  How can you shorten and simplify your message so that others can communicate these benefits more clearly and surely?

Now that you have a good understanding of the difference between features and benefits, I hope you’ll come back next week to read the follow-up blog post I’ll be doing which will teach show you exactly how to zero in on the benefits of your business.  Until then, if you have any questions about features vs. benefits or any thoughts you’d like to share regarding this post, please leave a comment in the comment forum below.  Thanks!

Leverage Your Smallest Billboard

With your business card, you have an opportunity to hook yourself into the minds of people you meet while networking.  Sure it’s a lot smaller than a roadside sign, but it can be as effective as a catchy billboard nonetheless.

Business Cards

(Image courtesy of mrsiraphol at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

For its size and cost, the business card is probably the most powerful marketing tool you own.  Take one of your cards out right now and look at it.  Does your current card accurately reflect your business’ personality–and your own?  What kind of first impression does it make?  Is it memorable?  If  not, it will probably get tossed into a drawer full of ancient, bent, forgotten cards or dropped into the nearest circular file.

Of course, you can’t expect your business card to do all the heavy lifting by itself.  It can’ t tell the whole story about your company.  It’s not a brochure or a catalog.  It has limited space, so you have to choose your words and images carefully.  Nevertheless, your card should present a professional image that people will remember.  A business card can make or break a client’s first impression of your company.  In fact, this little billboard makes as much of an impression as your personal appearance.

Choose a card style that’s appropriate for your business, industry, and personal style.  If you’re a funeral director, you don’t want to be caught handing out Day-Glo cards with cartoon figures on them.  If you’re a mechanic whose specialty is converting old VW Beetles into dune buggies, a formal, black-on-white engraved card will probably be thrown out.  Start with the style that best supports the business image you wish to project.  Regardless of the style you choose, make sure the impact remains consistent.

Here are five different card styles for you to consider:

  • Basic Cards–This is a good card style when utility is all you need.  It’s a no-nonsense approach that can appeal to clients and prospects who would not be impressed by fancy design features.  The design is simple and the information is clear and concise.  A basic card is usually printed in black ink on plain white or cream stock.
  • Picture Cards–Having your face on a card–whether it’s a photograph, a drawing, or a caricature–helps a contact remember you.  Images representing a product, service, or benefit your business provides, can help you communicate your business better than dozens of words.
  • Tactile Cards–Some cards are distinguished not so much by how they look as by how they feel.  They may use nonstandard materials, such as metal or wood, or have unusual shapes, edges, folds, or embossing.  Tactile cards tend to be considerably more expensive but, for some businesses, this unusual card may be worth the investment.
  • Multipurpose Cards–A card can do more than promote your name and business–it can also serve as a discount coupon, an appointment reminder, or some other function.  It may also provide valuable information that the average person might need.  For example, a hotel may include a map on the back of its card for any guests who are walking around the vicinity.
  • Outside-the-Box Cards–A wildly original, fanciful, or extravagant presentation can draw extra attention.  Creativity knows no bounds–except the amount of money you wish to spend.  Some examples are cards made of chocolate, cards fashioned into a deck of playing cards, or cards that fold out into a miniature box that holds small items.

In closing, I have one last, very important task for you.  Look closely at your business card again and after ensuring that it truly and positively represents you and your business, check for the essentials–your name, title, company name, address, phone number, e-mail address, and website.  If someone wants to contact you after receiving your card, you sure as heck want them to be able to reach you.

The #1 Tip for Hitting the Target with Marketing

Marketing isn’t something I was always confident about.  When I first started out in business, my degrees were in Political Science and Organizational Behavior.  I had very little marketing experience until I went to work for a transportation company in Southern California and, within a two week span, went from a role in purchasing to a significant role in marketing–a huge change that was an even bigger learning experience.

My marketing experience was trial by fire and reading.  I just started reading books on marketing and learned as I went, and it was that experience that gave me enough knowledge to do some marketing on my own when I later set out as a business consultant.

 

Marketing Target

Image courtesy of nokhoog_buchachon / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If somebody had asked me when I was 25 where I saw myself career wise in thirty years, I would have had no clue that my career would be all about marketing . . . that I would be the Chairman of the world’s largest referral marketing organization.  Sometimes we go places in life we never expected to go but I wouldn’t change a thing about the career path I chose.  I am passionate about helping people grow their businesses and achieve great success through effective referral marketing and after spending over two decades devoted to this work; I really enjoy knowing that the work I do allows me to pass on the marketing knowledge and experience I’ve attained in order to benefit to others.

I was recently asked what my top marketing tip would be and I think it’s really all about building the brand–either the brand of the company or of the individual, depending on the kind of business that you’re in.  Name recognition–that’s the biggest challenge, especially for small companies.  It’s not the same for everybody because every business is a little different and people’s skill sets are different.  For me, in my business, brand building has largely been about writing.  Before the internet I was trying to get articles in newspapers and magazines.  Now it’s much, much easier.  In this age of blogs and social media, even small companies have a global reach.  The problem is all the white noise that’s out there: with so many people wanting a piece of the action you have to be able to stand out.  So, for me, the top marketing tip would be to write, write, write.  Become an expert in your field so people want to follow you because when they follow you, they’re more likely to do business with you.

 

I’d love to hear how you’re making your mark with marketing–what is your top marketing tip for the other business owners out there reading this blog?

What Marketing Genius Thought of This?

 

It was 11:30 AM in Paris last Wednesday and Beth (my wife) and I had a lunch meeting that was set for 12 noon with a couple business associates. As we headed out to the curb to get into a taxi in order to drive to the restaurant, we noticed something odd. There were no taxis in the taxi stand in front of our building!

Unbeknown to us, the taxi drivers in Paris, were all on a two-day work stoppage (yes, a strike) in protest of the “Uber” App, (a personal sedan service that can be requested via an app) which has been cutting into their profits, according to the taxi drivers.  Apparently, they are hoping that the French government will ban the use of Uber in France!

We have used Uber with great success in the United States, and had not thought about using the app while here in Paris. It has been so easy, frankly, to just step outside and into one of any number of waiting taxis, that we didn’t need Uber.

But standing on the curb in the quickly intensifying sunshine with little time to spare to get to our appointment, we wondered if there was any chance of using the app now to book a car for our lunch. Beth tapped the app on her iPhone and within seconds we received confirmation that our Uber sedan would be with us in 15 minutes. After only six minutes, the car pulled up on the curb in front of our building.

Anyone who knows me at all, knows that I put a high premium on a company’s ability to under promise and over deliver. They definitely did just that in the humid Paris heat!

As we headed to our lunch meeting, we began talking about the irony of the taxi drivers’ strike actually driving us (pun intended!) into the waiting arms of the very competitor they were protesting! What marketing genius thought of this blunder-head idea!? To me this is the perfect example of something I call the “unintended consequences of a ‘seemingly’ good idea.” Did no one have a conversation about how this would actually play out? Maybe something like – “let’s see, why don’t we go on strike to protest an online application that will – oh, actually force people to use that online application while we’re all sitting at the brasserie enjoying croissants.” Yea, really smart.

Because of their actions, we have now been reminded of how easy and pleasant using Uber is. There is no money to change hands – all payment arrangements are done through the app. We can enter the request for a car while finishing up whatever it is we are doing and then head straight out into the car once we receive the text notification that it has arrived. We can actually watch the progress of the car as a GPS tracker shows an icon for it en route on our Uber app’s map. Even better – the vehicle is very clean and professional (we drove in a Peugeot to the restaurant and in a Mercedes on the way back – AND it was less than a taxi ride!).

I really like the emailed receipt after being dropped off at our destination. It shows what the average speed of the drive was, the duration of the drive and the final amount. Even better is that Uber ROUNDS DOWN to the nearest dollar! I mean, who actually does THAT?

So, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the taxi drivers who held this work stoppage for reminding me how amazing their competitor really is. Talk about the law of unintended consequences! I wonder how many other people took advantage of this strike to become new Uber customers. I can tell you that I will be requesting an Uber car more frequently on this trip now as a result of the strike.

Epilogue – Note to the Paris Taxi Driver’s Association:

Dear Paris Taxi Driver’s Association, the year is 2014. The internet actually exists and will most likely not disappear no matter how often you go on strike. The Genie cannot be put back into the bottle. Rather than try to “ban” a competitor who actually had a good idea – why not create your own app (as some taxi companies around the world have!) and join the rest of us in the 21st century.

Just a thought.

 

 

8 Questions to Ask Yourself When Considering a Sponsorship Opportunity

Local communities and organizations–be they service clubs or professional groups–depend on sponsorships to make ends meet at some of their events.  This is also true for association trade shows and exhibitions.  In most cases, the dollar amounts for sponsoring events of this sort are modest–ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

How many times have you been asked to be a sponsor?  How many times have you offered to sponsor a select event in order to help out someone in your network?  Both situations have the potential to give you huge exposure if done well.  In addition, sponsoring an event for someone on your word-of-mouth marketing team enhances the relationship, because you are helping that person meet a goal.

When you consider which people you will network with and where, you’re being selective.  Choose carefully, too, when you’re thinking about sponsoring an event.  Is it a good investment of your time and money?  Whether you’re being recruited or are volunteering, ask yourself the following questions before deciding . . .

  • What is the target market for this event?
  • What kind of exposure do I get for my investment?
  • Can I get this kind of exposure without this investment?
  • Do I get direct access to the audience?
  • Does it make sense for me to be there?
  • Which business or networking goal does it help me complete?
  • Are other sponsors my competitors?
  • How does this enhance my credibility with the person I’m helping?
  • Why wouldn’t I do it?

All of these questions help you determine the value of a sponsorship opportunity.  Now, imagine one day being in charge of putting on a huge event.  Suddenly, someone from your network steps forward to offer you a substantial sponsorship because she heard through the grapevine that your event needed money.  How would you feel about that person?  You can create that same feeling toward yourself in someone else by offering that exact gift.  Be selective, and offer your support in person.  In effect, you are making a tidy “deposit” in your relationship bank account.  This act of generosity definitely comes back to you in time, but for now it simply nurtures the relationship by helping someone in your network meet her goals.

This week, think of the people in your network.  Who do you know that is planning an event–a conference, an open house, a 10K fundraiser–who could use your financial support?  To strengthen your relationship with this individual, offer as much help from your business as you can provide.

Have you sponsored an event in the past?  If so, I’d love to hear about your experience and how it impacted your relationship with the person in charge of the event.  Please share your story in the comment forum below.  Thanks!

Getting a New Referral Is a Done Deal . . . True or False?

When one of your business contacts passes you a new referral, does that mean the prospect is ready to hear a presentation on your product or service?  Repeat after me . . . NO.  Assume nothing.

When an associate passes you a referral, say thanks, then start digging for more information.  Exactly what does the prospect do?  What products or services does he want from you?  Will your offerings truly fulfill his needs?  What is his behavioral style?  What are his business goals?  How large is his company?

Don’t skip steps in your sales process.  Before you approach the prospect, you need to decide on a strategy based on whatever you can find out about him–the same as you would when preparing for any sale.  Just because the prospect was referred to you doesn’t mean the sale is a done deal.  All you’ve really received is an opportunity to approach the prospect with a favorable introduction.  Whether the prospect becomes a client or not depends on how well you convince him that what you offer, at the price and under the conditions that you offer it, will fulfill his needs.

There’s quite a difference between a basic referral and one that’s well developed, and there are many different levels in between.  Listed here from least to most valuable, you should consider which level this referral represents:

  • Name and contact information only–Unfortunately, this is what many of your potential sources probably think the first time you say the word referral to them.  It does represent a certain level of trust in you, but the networking value of this kind of referral is low.  It’s better than nothing–but not much.
  • Authorization to use name–If he says, “Tell ’em Joe sent you,” you can be fairly sure you’ve established a good level of credibility with him.  This gives you some leverage, but the work of developing the prospect still falls on you.
  • Testimonial or letter of introduction–If your source trusts you enough to say nice things about you, try getting him to go a bit further and write you a letter of introduction or recommendation, including background information on you and some words about your product or service.
  • Introduction call–A personal phone call on your behalf, preparing the prospect to hear from you, takes significant time and effort in preparation.
  • Letter of introduction and phone call promotion–A letter that’s followed up by a phone call advocating your business represents a high level of commitment by your referral source and has a great deal of influence on the prospect.
  • Meeting–By arranging and working out the details for a meeting between you and the prospect, your source moves beyond the role of promoter to that of facilitator, or even business agent.  This demonstrates to your prospect a deep level of trust in you.
  • Face-to-face introduction and promotion–Combining an in-person introduction with promotion demonstrates that your source is engaged in selling your product or service rather than just facilitating your sales effort.
  • Closed deal–Your referral source describes the features and benefits of your product or service, then closes the sale before you even contact the prospect.  All you have to do is deliver the goods and collect the money.  This is obviously the best kind of referral you can get.  To get to this level of referral, you’ll have to work with your sources and tell them what you’d like from them.  This takes time and education.

The better your source knows you and is confident of your character and your business, the more often you’ll get the higher-level referrals.  But keep in mind that you need to be making high-level referrals for your sources too.  It really is true . . . what goes around comes around.

What can you do this week in an effort to generate more high level referrals for your referral sources? For those of you who share your ideas in the comment forum below, I’ll send a free copy of my book Masters of Sales to everyone who posts their thoughts by the end of the week (Sunday, 5/5/13).  Once you leave your comment, send your name and your mailing address to erin@bni.com in order to receive your book (Erin is my Communications Supervisor and she will only use your contact information in order to ensure you receive your book–your information will not be shared).  Thanks!

Mega Partnering VI Event

I am excited to announce that I will be presenting at the Mega Partnering VI conference (www.MegaPartnering6.com) this year which is taking place in Los Angeles, CA from November 29-December 2.

The event is run by the J.T. Foxx Organization (www.JTFoxx.com) and J.T., whom I’ve gotten to know over the past couple of years, has invited me to give a presentation on how to achieve success through networking.

J.T. (pictured with me below) has a very interesting story as he started investing with nothing more than a rusted-out Ford pick-up truck, $974.00, and one cheap suit.  Now, six years later, he is a serial entrepreneur who has started several multi-million dollar companies internationally and he has become one of the world’s top wealth coaches and a sought after motivational speaker–all this he has done through mastering the art of partnering, branding, networking, and marketing.

Mega Partnering is an independent international organization J.T. Foxx created after watching a 60 Minutes episode  about Davos, applying, and getting turned down when he tried to start his own business.  Not willing to accept rejection, J.T. decided to create his own opportunities for small businesses and he called it “MegaPartnering.”

The conference has since grown to include small entrepreneurs from all over the world and it raises money for charitable initiatives, keeping with the philosophy, “Learn, Earn, Return.”  Mega Partnering attendees have included Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Stedman Graham, and more.

There will be several accomplished entrepreneurs at this year’s event–many of them giving presentations– including Michael Eisner, Kathy Ireland, Eric Trump, John Assaraf, Raymond Aaron, and Mark Victor Hansen, among others.

If you are interested in registering to attend the event or learning more about it or about J.T.,  please CLICK HERE to visit the Mega Partnering website.  I hope to see you at the event in November!

 

 

The Profit Puzzle of Business

I recently had several business associates ask me about finding a good model for a business plan that they can use for their franchise.

Being able to market your business is, to a large extent, based on understanding your business.  Understanding your business begins by creating a plan.  One of the best models I’ve seen is one that I have used and recommended for years.  It’s called the “Profit Puzzle.”  It was developed by a good friend of mine – Don Osborne.

Below are the key categories (or puzzle pieces) that Don uses in his system.  If you need, or want, to produce a business plan for your business.  I recommend you check out www.ProfitPuzzle.com.  Just remember – once you have a structure for your plan – it requires that you commit a fair amount of time and effort to actually complete the plan (the plan doesn’t complete itself!).  You have to do the hard work to think about what goes into each part of the puzzle.

Check out Don’s  categories below.  They are very thorough.

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