Business

marketing qualified leads

Marketing Qualified Leads: What You Need to Know to be Successful

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Editor’s Note: Shout Out Studio has partnered with students from Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) to mentor, research and write a series of blog posts for shoutoutstudio.com. The authors are members of student-led group, East Bridge Consultancy, an affiliate of Alpha Kappa Psi, a professional business fraternity.

By: Ben Clodgo & Taylor Bleedorn

WHAT IS A MARKETING QUALIFIED LEAD?

Defining MQLs

In the ultra-competitive business world today, companies are looking for any way to gain an edge. Marketing Qualified Leads are quickly becoming a popular and cost-effective way to do so. Marketing Qualified Leads, or MQLs, point companies to those customers that are most likely to purchase their product or service. Finding these valuable leads will allow a company to be more successful in converting them to customers.

Why MQLs Matter

Companies don’t have the time or resources to sift through tons of potential buyers. Narrowing down the pool of customers allows you to spend more quality time and resources on those high-probability buyers. This translates into more revenue per lead and higher overall productivity.

HOW TO GET MARKETING QUALIFIED LEADS?

Techniques Employed

Knowing the general concept of what constitutes a Marketing Qualified Lead will only take your company so far. An in depth understanding of how to obtain and implement MQLs is imperative both to the success of a company and to yielding positive results. There are four variables that are foundational to recognizing the leads: Profile, Channels, Actions, and Undesirables. Every company is unique, which means profiles of their MQLs will differentiate as well. For a profile to be completed, the basics and needs of what is being sought out must be outlined. Along with the profile of what the MQLs should look like, the channels must be agreed upon. Channels can range from direct forms to forming one-on-one interactions to even hosting events. Overall, choose the channel you believe the leads will respond best to. Which leads into actions, the third variable in obtaining Marketing Qualified Leads. The actions an individual takes can be some of the most vital information to your business, since it is what allows you to figure out how an individual becomes an MQL, and the development it took for that change. Throughout the whole process of employing techniques to achieve more Marketing Qualified Leads, keep the last variable in mind: undesirables. Undesirables are exactly that, the ones who are unsuited to become an MQL for your company. This does not mean that that consumer is inferior, but they are simply not likely to purchase what you are selling. For every positive profile, channel, and action that emerges, a focus must also stay on the opposite of those. This will guide your company away from the undesirables, and towards the desirables, thus leading to more MQLs.

Lead Scoring

Lead scoring is taking the four variables of your MQL and having the ability to score any lead that presents itself. Your business must be able to determine whether or not the lead is qualified enough to fit the company’s needs. Every business already knows that one of the most vital parts of staying successful is converting investments into revenue. Think of lead scoring MQLs as your company’s newest investment –  it must be worth spending the money and resources to see a valuable outcome.  The measurements used can be split by your business into two main categories: Explicit and Implicit. The explicit scores are the ones that can be defined through the MQLs profile such as demographics, budget, timeline, or firmographics. Whereas implicit caters more towards the online actions taken by MQLs through site browsing, clicks, shares, and engagements online.

This measurement tool can dramatically shape your company’s outcome with revenue and conversion rate. You may think that having a myriad of MQLs is the goal, however, those leads will accomplish nothing for your business unless they are refined to the best quality. Hence the purpose of lead scoring, which funnels the leads that have both the intent to buy, and a profile that lines up with your company’s overall target market.

Implementation

In all of the focus on obtaining marketing qualified leads, don’t forget the end goals of your business. When used successfully, MQLs will streamline your company and let you begin to churn out customers. It is important to remember that every company will look different and will target different consumers. By remembering a few key steps, you will be well on your way to gaining the competitive edge.

Research who you want to target.

Score potential leads.

Act upon the information.

 

brands and politics

Brands & Politics: A Conversation Worth Having?

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Editor’s Note: Shout Out Studio has partnered with students from Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) to mentor, research and write a series of blog posts for shoutoutstudio.com. The authors are members of student-led group, East Bridge Consultancy, an affiliate of Alpha Kappa Psi, a professional business fraternity.

By: Daniel Kuperman & Sean Hynes

When an increasingly complex business environment collides with a decidedly unconventional political landscape, the only certainty is disruption. Although, to many, this bizarre interplay became most visible during Britain’s exit from the Eurozone and the ascendancy of Donald Trump, keen observers noted signs of change well in advance. The prevalence of social media helps facilitate the adoption of oxymorons like ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news,’ somehow becoming mainstays in today’s vernacular. These developments point to a deep uncertainty that pervades social interactions, political conversations, and the markets alike. For some brands, this new standard presents a unique opportunity to connect with a targeted audience.

As exemplified by the immigrant-centered Anheuser Busch ad featured during Super Bowl 50, the growing impact of increasing political divisiveness can be clearly seen. It is also no coincidence this commercial — and others like it — were aired during the single most-viewed television event of the 21st century.

Officially, Anheuser Busch played off the immigrant focus as a coincidence. Amidst the contentious debates that followed Mr. Trump’s proposals for deportation, it was quite the timely opportunity for this ad to air. Delving deeper into the elements of this industry leader’s client base and competition lends useful context to this marketing effort. It is no secret that behemoths like Anheuser Busch have been seeing market share erosion for years due to increasingly popular craft beer brands. A common criticism is that such a massive firm adapts too slowly to diverging consumer preferences, whereas its more nimble competitors were founded upon these new tastes. Perhaps this political gesture intended to rebuy the support of millennial consumers using an unapologetically current ad, costing AB as much as $15 million.

Not all companies choose to align with any specific political ideology or movement, but rather embrace a broader theme such as unity seeking widespread appeal. Coca Cola’s #AmericaIsBeautiful campaign aims to evoke a powerful, albeit safer, reaction among their customer base. The ad seems to make the case that despite our differences, we can bond together and enjoy the ubiquitous experience of a Coke. Compared to AB’s commercial, what Coke lacks in boldness it makes up for in mass appeal. For a country appearing to be growing apart on political and social fronts, this may be a wise approach.

The less audacious brands are perhaps in the best company, opting for a neutral stance instead of venturing into potentially hostile social arenas. Well-recognized (and more often than not, publicly traded) companies chose to respond in ways that would not commit them firmly to either support or opposition of Mr. Trump’s actions. A longer-term outlook reveals a danger of staying out of the conversation, however. While this more guarded course of action makes sense from a shareholder-centered perspective, if social tides turn and increase pressure on corporations to take a stand, those who stayed neutral will be first in the line of fire.

As the powers of social media continue to grow at a seemingly exponential rate, this pressure will continue to creep up on corporations. Public relations nightmares have gone from a minor inconvenience to becoming a major catastrophe overnight, with recent occurrences involving Pepsi and United Airlines coming to mind. Whether it was a company releasing the wrong politically charged ad or having employees’ actions reflect poorly on their employers as a whole, companies must be wary of the powers behind making the wrong move, especially with growing pressure to step out of the neutral zone and take a stand. For United, a single failure in PR crisis management resulted in a $250 million net loss in market value.

Individually, these examples are anecdotal at best; extrapolating on any single situation would be ill-advised. Deciphering a best practice may be impossible for industries as a whole, but by engaging with one’s unique audience, companies can aspire to connect on a more profound level with end users.

 

Understand How You Work Best

Understanding How You Work Best

1920 703 Nathaniel Seevers

Leadership doesn’t always mean leading others or directing or delegating. Leadership starts with leading yourself; things like time management, being honest about your responsibilities, putting in the extra time to refine your skills. Part of that is understanding how you work best. What is the optimal situation for you to create your best work most efficiently on a regular basis?

The book, Strength Finders, is built around the premise that your days are better spent amplifying your strengths and gifts versus toiling over your weaknesses. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule at a much more detailed level. If a tennis player’s backhand is a weakness it’s still going to need some work for that player to see success. That can’t be ignored. But if tennis is the athletes weakness and she’s naturally gifted at soccer, maybe her time is better spent there honing that craft.

As it goes with WHAT you work on, so it goes with HOW you work on it. Being in tune with the ideal situation required for you to produce your best work most efficiently will not only help you at that moment but could also help you to:

  • Improve energy and focus over a period of time (days/week)
  • Better communicate with your team and show empathy to how they best work
  • Make decisions on project timelines and assign personnel to tackle the right tasks at the right time

Outlining your best moments: create a Productivity Inventory.

Identifying certain high-level productivity traits comes naturally. It’s easy for most of us to say confidently, “I do my best writing in the mornings” or “my best creative work happens in the evenings when no one is around.” But how do we dig a little deeper? Like an elite athlete, how do we track and improve on specific areas impacting the quality of work we produce?

Self-Awareness is key. First create a checklist of your typical tasks and responsibilities. Now think back on two specific types of moments; one where you “felt in the zone,” felt productive, creative, firing on all cylinders and one where despite knowing exactly what needed done you struggled to stay focus and complete the necessary tasks.

Ask the following for each scenario:

  • What time of day was it?
  • Was there music playing, was it quiet or was there simply a mixture of background noises?
  • Were there people around or were you alone?
  • Were you at a desk or in an easy chair? At the office, at home or offsite someplace like a coffee shop?
  • Were you working under a tight deadline or working ahead of the game?
  • How much sleep did you get the night before?
  • Is there a connection to your diet / are you eating foods the promote brain energy?

Being honest (not feeling guilty) about how we work best can lead to improved individual and overall company efficiency. Things like understanding when you and your team need to walk away and take a break or what distractions you can schedule or avoid altogether gets you to better processes and better project management which in the end provides for a happier work environment and better work for your clients.

Ted talks to keep you creative

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Welcome to March! New Years resolutions have  faded, it’s STILL winter, and there’s a lot of work to be done. So here are a few TED talks to keep you inspired, creative, and motivated.

Elizabeth Gilbert – Your elusive creative genius

One of my favorite TED talks, author of Eat, Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about following up your greatest success and attempting to chase down the creativity that made it possible.

“I think that allowing somebody, one mere person to believe that he or she is like, the vessel, you know, like the font and the essence and the source of all divine, creative, unknowable, eternal mystery is just a smidge too much responsibility to put on one fragile, human psyche. It’s like asking somebody to swallow the sun.”

 Kare Anderson: Be an opportunity maker

Kare talks about how making people who are unlike ourselves our allies… creates opportunities, for everybody.

“What I’m asking you to consider is what kind of opportunity- makers we might become, because more than wealth or fancy titles or a lot of contacts, it’s our capacity to connect around each others better side and bring it out.”


 Margaret Gould Stewart: How giant websites design for you (and a billion others, too)

Margaret guides us through how complicated it can be to create designs that scale, but how important it is, to get it right.

“Audacity to believe that the thing that you’re making is something that the entire world wants and needs, and humility to understand that as a designer, it’s not about you or your portfolio, it’s about the people that you’re designing for, and how your work just might help them live better lives.”


 Richard St. John: Success is a continuous journey

Richard demonstrates how believing that you’re successful is a great way to fail.

“So I went back to doing the projects I loved. I had fun again, I worked harder and, to cut a long story short, did all the things that took me back up to success.”


 Edith Wilder: How we found the giant squid

Edith shows us how changing the method used to view underwater species helped catch a shot of the very elusive giant squid. Her very creative alternative approach generated amazing results.

“We’ve only explored about five percent of our ocean. There are great discoveries yet to be made down there, fantastic creatures representing millions of years of evolution and possibly bioactive compounds that could benefit us in ways that we can’t even yet imagine.”

What are some ways you stay creative and motivated to do your best work? How do you inspire others to do their best work?

CES 2015: Best new gear for business

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The 2015 CES has wrapped up, giving us a slew of new and innovative products and technology. I went through the roundup, and picked some of the best new gear for business. Unintentionally, my picks were focused on getting work done while out and about.

Airtame: work better wirelessly

A nifty little gadget that will plug in to any HDMI connection and wirelessly stream your screen from any device. Makes presentations easy, effortless, and awesome. Available now.

 


Zuta Pocket Printer: The first mini robotic printerphoto zuta labs

The Zuta pocket printer allows you to print full size documents on the go. Super handy if you need to print a contract to be signed, or update an invoice. Will print from any device via wifi. Taking pre-orders now.

 

 

 

 


CES 2015: Best new gear for busines - Soluto  Soluto: Your mobile, at your service

Soluto is an app available on Google play and the App store. It features tools that go above and beyond the standard mobile apps. Provides backup, finding and securing a lost phone, and a set of diagnostic and maintenance tools. Soluto is also part of  Asurion, a company that provides excellent service and insurance for a variety of devices.

 

 

 


 

Zagg: Your best fitZagg

Zagg has been creating mobile solutions since 2005. They had an excellent round up this year at CES, but my favorite was the pocket, a foldable wireless phablet keyboard and stand. A condensed but comfortable keyboard, allowing you to conduct business and get work done, well anywhere.

 

 

 

 

What were some of your favorite products from the CES this year?

Don’t Just Take the Money and Run

842 452 Nathaniel Seevers

Building a business is tough. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Often times the toughest part though isn’t getting enough business to pay the bills but rather getting the right kind of business. The kind where you can share your gifts for the good of your clients and take steps toward reaching long-term growth goals: that’s a mutually beneficial business relationship.

When we started building Shout Out we wanted to help everyone. And we still do WANT to, to an extent. At the time we would take on any business that fit into our expertise. Any project that included services listed on our website – no matter how small or how unrealistic the timeline. We were taking smaller brush strokes for the chance to paint a big picture someday – adding funds to our account so we could pay our small team, invest in tools and live to market another day.

But too much time in that zone can hurt more than help. Client partnerships that don’t fit can make accomplishing anything at all more tough than it should be. It takes three hours to complete something that should take one. It takes rebuilding trust at every decision. It takes more update meetings than necessary. It lacks proper communication. It includes two different paradigms on what a successful outcome looks like and those paradigms get in the way of each other. Projects that don’t fit, whether due to budget or timeline or available resources, can negatively impact other projects that do fit. It can risk your other, good client relationships.

Getting caught in the habit of taking on projects and clients that you know aren’t right for your business, just because the pulse of cash flow would be nice, is no good for either party. When you “take the money and run” you never stay put long enough to build something lasting, something that pays dividends to you or your client.

To help you better understand how to get more healthy client partnerships create a profile of characteristics:

Define Your Niche

Where do you play at your best? If applicable, is there an industry or geographic area you see the best results from your efforts? These can help you create ideal client profiles and play into specific marketing campaigns.

Determine Your Top 3-5 New Business Sources

Look at your current clients and pinpoint your best matches. This doesn’t mean the ones you joke the most with on conference calls – though that is important – these are the clients that utilize your expertise in the best way. These are the partnerships where you both contribute effectively to the success of the other party.

Where do most of those great relationships come from? Are they all client referrals? From your website via organic search? From your business development executives?

If it’s possible to pinpoint that main source of great relationships it’s worth putting extra effort into that channel to prove or disprove the theory that more great business will flow from that faucet.

Understand Your Profitability Status

Within your current products/services where are your biggest opportunities to increase profitability? Is there a need to work on extensions of those products or services and if so how do you work that into your marketing so that you attract folks with those needs? Are there areas of your business that become a burden on projects? A service that drains resources or maybe isn’t in your true area of expertise where you could partner with a third-party in order to be better for your clients and yourself?

Of course, defining the right client partnerships works both ways. People and companies in search of a product or service should also jot down characteristics of what they’re looking for. If cost is important it should be on the list, clearly defined with a clear “why” but it shouldn’t be the only box to check.

Photo credit: Kevin Dooley
In use under Creative Commons 2.0 license

Growing, Maturing and Getting Organized

776 415 Marsh Williams

Growing, Maturing and Getting Organized

I’ve been through so many start-ups it’s hard to count, but there is a point in each one where members of the team have to make a change in their mindset and for me it’s always hard.

Starting out everyone knows everything that’s going on in the company all of the time. Whether by water cooler or meeting, it’s pretty easy to keep a proverbial finger on the pulse of what’s happening. In addition, everyone helps in almost every area. People pitching when they have time and do what they can to serve the clients, build the team and grow the company. As a friend of mine used to say, “everyone is a generalist.”

But one day it happens

Someone finds out about something “after the fact.” This is the point where things are moving quickly, the organization is growing and all of sudden people find out there is more going on than they know about. This is an inflection point in the life of a company and for the individuals who find themselves there. Now what?

In my experience there are two ways to respond, and to be honest, I’ve done both over my career.

Two Options

One way is to start taking it personally, to feel you’re being excluded because you’re not in the loop on everything. In my experience once this begins it can get very ugly. The second way to deal with this is to realize that it’s just growth. As the organization gets bigger and the projects get bigger and the clients get bigger, things will naturally change and the process of communications becomes much more complicated. As a result, it’s very hard to keep everyone involved with everything that is going on. There is also a point where it’s incredibly inefficient for everyone to be involved in everything.

So as we’ve been wrestling with this issue within Shout Out, here’s what we’ve decided to do: get organized, and get organized in a way that let’s everyone have access to pretty much any information they want and everything they need. Wow, this sounds so simple, but it’s not. We’ve been working on this for several months and looking for a way to communicate efficiently internally and externally with all of the involved parties.

So what do you do?

Well we think we have found a solution. About a year ago we started working with a tool named Asana. We tried it for a little while then set it aside. About four months ago we picked it up again and it is helping to transform the way we work, communicate and manage everything we’re doing. We can now let anyone see what is going on with any project, internal and external, and know who is working on what. Everyone on the team also has the ability to jump in and help on a project if they have any extra capacity, just by looking at the open “to-do” items and seeing if there is something they can pick up.

Asana is a solid tool in which we’re investing a lot of time and effort. This is not a case where the magical-silver-bullet, golden-unicorn tool saves the day. Asana is a tool and that’s it. What we’re investing in is learning how to use the tool and developing processes that surround our use of Asana. Without processes a tool will just sit there and stare at you. Or even worse, it can drag you down a rabbit hole and waste a lot of your time.

Over the coming months we’re going to provide updates on our little experiment and get perspectives from all of the team members about how it is working. In addition, we will do our damnedest to provide guides on any best practices we come up with in case you want to tag a long or are already using Asana.

Disclaimer

And by the way…there is no connection at all with Asana, other than the fact we’re a client of theirs. The reason we share all of this is that in our experience all companies are looking for good tools and process to help them grow, mature and get organized.

Photo Credit: reynermedia

wrist watch

Business Basics: Why They Matter

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We work with a variety of different clients, and within each company each individual we work with is unique. When working with an outside partner though there are a few basics to constantly be working to improve and build on so that your relationship with each other has the most potential to grow. These might seem very basic, but in the cluster of everyday life they are most often forgotten, yet the most important:

Staying Organized

Being organized within your own company will do wonders when you work directly with other companies. Utilizing tools such as Asana, Box and social media schedules, as well as personal calendars can help significantly. When a client or even members within your own company ask for information, images, files, or reports they can be easily accessed. Another benefit is if the company shares the file, you don’t have to ask for it. It’s at your fingertips.

Communication

Whether you communicate through email, Skype, phone calls or even sending a quick text – nothing is more important than responsive communication. If there are any issues or problems they should be addressed immediately through whichever method your partner is most comfortable using. An important aspect of communication that is often ignored in business is follow up. If a company or individual reaches out to you with a question or a comment, it’s a good idea to get back to them as quickly as you can. Consider scheduling a task reminder to follow up if you know you’re not available to respond in the moment. That way you don’t forget items that need addressed, and it allows you time to provide an appropriate response when you can.

Sticking To A Timeline

Sure this seems elementary, but it really can play a significant role in your co-working relationship. Collaborate with your team and client to come up with goals, and create a timeline to stick to as a benchmark. It’ll help keep both sides of the party on point for what needs to be done and when. Be transparent with your partner about the past week’s activities and planned initiatives ahead. You can’t assume they know what you’re working on, and this also can creates an opportunity for conversation should priorities need to shift. Lastly, start the work day with a list of goals. You’ll find monitoring daily will help you see that they’re completed by the end of the week, or help you determine what needs to take priority the following.

Image via Guy Sie

Tables and chairs

Keeping the Office Creative

880 461 Colin Smith

The ever changing landscape of business today is full of opportunity, risk, and the constant need to stand out in the crowd. Whether it’s a small business or a large corporation, the goal is the same: stay innovative and unique. This doesn’t only apply to products and services but also to problem solving techniques, new ways to increase productivity, and creating experiences that are fresh for both clients and employees. A company that is desirable to work for will result in a company that is desirable to work with. So how are companies staying innovative? By promoting creativity.

Creativity can be hard to sustain on a daily basis, but a good place to start is the environment where employees will be working every day. Looking at the offices of successful and creative companies, there are things they do that break the mold of a standard office building. The first thing you will notice is how open they are. While you may see desks with individual work spaces adorned by personal pictures and objects, the rows and rows of grey cubicles are nowhere to be found. Having open work areas promote communication, interaction and community which all lead to a more productive and social workforce. Fluorescent lit rooms used for one specific purpose are also not very conducive to a creative environment. Instead, there is a move towards open offices with a lot of natural light, color, and space.

An office is a reflection of the company and people who work in it. It is a reflection of the brand, culture, and work produced by the company. Having examples of work, indicators of a companies values, and items that reflect the brand are great ways to make the office more than just a place to clock in at the beginning of the day. Innovative companies are moving towards office-zones: spaces with different intentions. An area of movable and comfortable furniture promotes co-workers to work together, solve problems, and discuss ideas freely. Areas to write and doodle are also common in these areas. Whiteboards where people can ask questions, draw ideas and provide insight are all great ways to promote productivity and creativity. Other “zones” designated for employees to work in a quiet area without interruption are also great for individuals to get away from the more social parts of the office. While collaboration and conversation are great for inspiration, a place to focus on an idea is also necessary for it to come to fruition. The idea is to create an environment that creates a community of people who enjoy where they are, the people they are with, and what they do.

Aside from forming inspiring and inviting offices, companies are also providing employees with opportunities to grow and explore new ideas. These opportunities go beyond an occasional work trip, and occur much more frequently. Another reason they work is employees get paid while taking part in these activities. Here are three companies who have different approaches when it comes to allocating time to experiment.

3M

3M has been creating products we use on a daily basis since 1902, and now produces more than 55,000 products. Innovation has been key to their success and is the reason they have been able to continue to grow for over a hundred years. One of their ideas has been adopted by many tech companies today, including Google. 3M allows for employees to spend %15 of their time to create, experiment, and pursue their own ideas. This paid free-time has led to products that they still make today, including the Post-It Note. They feel it is well worth it to give employees this paid opportunity to pursue ideas, as it has led to thousands of patents and ideas from which the company has greatly benefited. The key to this free-time is to be supportive and open to new ideas.

Foursquare

Foursquare and their “Friday Afternoon Art Hour.” As it suggests, every friday at 5 p.m. a group of Foursquare employees gather for an hour. Each week someone purposes a new exercise, problem to solve, or a goal for the individuals to work on. They each spend a few minutes brainstorming, after which they draw their final solution. While the activities aren’t necessarily related to ways to improve Foursquare, they are a way to stretch the imagination and problem solve in a stress free environment. Besides, everyone is a little fried by the end of the week, and this gives them a chance to shake off responsibility and think outside of the box.

Google

It’d be near impossible to talk about innovative companies without bringing up Google at least once, for a variety of reasons. A company that started as a search engine has become one of the most innovative corporations in the world with recent releases such as Google Glass, Google Fiber and autonomous cars. One way they promote thinking outside of the box is a space that is accessible to all departments of the company, from legal to design. It’s called The Garage, and its sole purpose is to promote creativity. The name is an ode to Google’s roots, and the culture of silicon valley where start-ups are born in the garages of the next-big-thing’s home. The Garage’s main purpose is collaborative creativity and boasts everything from laser cutters to 3D printers so employees are able to create anything they think up. By making sure the space is flexible, accessible, and open to everyone, Google gives everyone a chance to contribute. In a sense it is an adult’s playground where teamwork leads to productivity.

While creativity and innovation can’t be taught, they can be given the chance to flourish. By creating an office with an environment that promotes free thinking, productivity and community, companies can be sure they have employees who want the company to grow. Secondly, companies who provide employees with the opportunity to grow as individuals will lead to creative thought, new ideas, and progress. The final part to ensuring innovation is by being open to new ideas and different ways of thinking as a whole. The ability to step back and approach ideas from a different angle will give a company the upper-hand on it’s competitors. Companies full of passion and creativity will be the companies with the brightest future.

Photo Credit: Marcin Wichary

Tips For Business Road Trips

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Did you know that Columbus, Ohio is within 500 miles of 50% of the United States population? We are within a 5-hour drive of many major cities such as Chicago, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and several others. As a result, we travel a lot for business via car.

Day trips to see clients could be costly, not monetarily but productivity wise. To have as many as 4 of 7 employees to be out of our work environment for 6 hours of travel time could set us back big time on other projects if we let it. We have done this enough times to know how to avoid losing half a day to travel. Here are our tips to stay productive during a business road trip:

Have a Project Meeting

Often we use the first bit of time in the car to catch everyone up on all projects that are going on with other clients. It’s a great time to update people who may not be working on the same project as you, as well as plan for the upcoming week with people who do work on the same project.

Turn on Your Hot Spot

Having wifi on the road can be tricky and it doesn’t always work, but when it does it is a life saver for productivity. The back seat of a car isn’t a great desk, but with a laptop and wifi you can still get a ton done such as replying to e-mails, writing blog articles, and working on various company projects online.

Brainstorm

Unfortunately I get sick as a dog when I try to look at a screen and read something in a moving car, so I usually divert to this tactic. I find that some of our best ideas come when the team is brainstorming in the car. We brainstorm copy, project strategies, blog ideas, and anywhere else our mind takes us. Where this would be digressing from any other regular meeting, we embrace it in the car and get fantastic results.

Schedule Conference Calls

We often schedule our conference calls with other clients so they line up with our travel time. It is a great way for everyone to be able to jump on a call and talk through whatever project needs addressed. No screens, reading, or internet connection required so even the driver can participate.

Stop for Lunch

The few times that we have tried to do a trip and skip lunch have not been great. As pressed as you are for time, make sure you stop for lunch. It gives everyone a chance to decompress and refuel. If you don’t, everyone in the car is going to lose energy and ALL productivity for the day will be lost no matter what.

I’ll admit there are times when I dread a company car trip, not for lack of good company, but for lack of productivity. But now that we’re no strangers to the client visit day trip, we have really dialed in how to stay productive. Remember you will probably never be as productive as you are from your regular work environment, but you can still get stuff done. Oh and if you have the chance, make sure you stop at the Warm Glow Candle Outlet. Best bathrooms on I-70.

 

Photo Credit: wwarbycc

zappos customer service

There’s Zappos and Then There’s Everyone Else

1440 527 Marsh Williams

Updated: 1:15 pm 4/24/14

I’ve just had an interesting customer service experience to share and hopefully learn from.

I bought a Jot Script stylus to use with my iPad a few weeks ago and last week it exploded in my hand, not literally, but it certainly fell apart. I reached out to Adonit via Twitter and asked for help. They responded which was wonderful and they offered to replace the item which was great, but here’s where it went sideways, at least in my opinion.

I was asked to package the stylus “very carefully” and ship it to them for inspection after which they would send me a new item and pay for the postage it cost me to ship it, but only via PayPal. Sounds good right? Then my Zappos customer training kicked in. I literally found myself thinking, “What would Zappos do?”

Zappos would have said, “…we’re really sorry, we’re sending you a new one tonight and when you get it tomorrow please use the same box to return the broken one, and we’ll pay the postage both ways.”

Why? Why does Zappos do this? And, more importantly why doesn’t everyone else? After thinking about it for a while I realized something that I’d never thought of before: Zappos doesn’t make anything…nothing, nada, squat.

The only thing they sell is service. They have no emotional investment in the product purchased, or what it took to design, manufacture or engineer it. They are not attached to the product. Yes, they evaluate it to make sure it’s made well and stands up to their expectations, but they did not make it and are therefore free of all the baggage that goes with creating a product and getting it to the market.

So here is the question for every organization selling anything online…what do you really care about? Do you want happy customers, or do you want customers to like your product and appreciate all the work that went into creating it? They are very different things.

In my situation with the Stylus, it seemed as if Adonit was more concerned with getting their broken product back than in getting a new one to me. They put the burden on me to do everything first and then wait to get a replacement product, and to be honest while their intent is good, they are not putting the customer (me) and their (my) needs first. By the way—the real underlying issue here is that they don’t trust me to hold up my end of the bargain and return the broken stylus.

So I encourage you to think about the end game of customer experience if you’re going to sell online. If all you want to do is sell more product then you probably will not succeed. If you want to create an incredible customer experience then it is likely you will win big. It can be done. If Zappos can make money selling commodity items and doing it better than the brick and mortar joint down the street, imagine what you can do with your product and how incredible it can be.

Give your customer service/support the gift of not caring about what it took to design, manufacture or engineer your product(s) and let them focus on making the customers fanatics about the experience. If you don’t want to service the customer, if it’s too much trouble or it’s too expensive, or you believe the customer will just rip you off, or if your only goal is to sell more product, then do not be surprised if you get your butt kicked…just my opinion.

Set your course toward a Zappos experience. You’ll have bumps. You’ll learn a lot. But putting your customers first is the only strategy that will ultimately create a win. And instead of customers you’ll get fans, which are infinitely more valuable.

Post Script

I’m probably just going to go buy a new stylus because it’s a great product and that’s the easiest route for me, but I’m not feeling very good about the experience or the company behind it.

Post Post Script 4/24/14 1:15 p.m.

Now that ‘s what I’m talking about! After Adonit blew a chance to be customer service heros, Evernote stepped in and actually did it right. Evernote’s Social Media team had been listening in and filed a customer support request on my behalf. I then received an email from Theo (my new hero) at Evernote Customer Support with the following information:

“I sent a new stylus to you with one-day shipping; I don’t have the option for overnight unfortunately, but you don’t need to worry about covering that cost. You’ll receive an email with tracking information as soon as it ships.

Please let me know if I can assist you further.

Regards,

Theo
Evernote”

Score Evernote! That’s the way it should be done…

Photo Credit: mdanys

The One Thing

Book Review: The One Thing

842 452 Shout Out Studio

We can all benefit from greater focus, higher productivity, and a strong understanding of what our priorities are. Tasks much easier said than done. But that is what The One Thing is all about, making those things easier to do. Our friend Mark Henson at Sparkspace in Columbus, Ohio had recommended The One Thing as the next book I should read. Mark’s track record for recommending books is phenomenal so I immediately ordered it off Amazon. In hindsight I should have bought two.

The One Thing turned out to be an incredibly insightful read about how to practically go about identifying and organizing your priorities. At the core of the book is the focusing question; “What is the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” The book teaches you to use this question to constantly bring focus back to determining what your priorities are. I have found some immediate benefit from the focusing question provided by the book and I have been trying to incorporate it more and more into my routine.

Although the focusing question is at the heart of the book, I found plenty of other things that stuck with me after reading as well. One of which being the detrimental effects of multitasking. The book makes a pretty powerful argument that multitasking is not only not helpful for productivity, but that it can be downright harmful to becoming highly productive. Another thing that stuck with me was the description of highly successful peoples habits, especially the concept of time blocking. Time blocking is the practice of where you want to go with what you need to do in a given day, and protecting the time block. I have gone back and read that section of the book and will probably visit it again, just to put in perspective the differences between the way I operate and the way highly successful people do.

There are times when our group is so full of great ideas, but not enough time to implement all at once. The One Thing has definitely shown me a method to help sift through things like that and determine what the real priorities are. If you are looking for some practicable ways to up productivity and bring focus to your daily tasks, I highly recommend The One Thing.

Photo credit: Shout Out Studio

stack of books

What I Learned From an Unplugged Weekend

880 461 Nathaniel Seevers

A couple weekends ago I turned my phone back into a phone, took the smart out of smartphone if you will and unplugged for the weekend.

It was long overdue. I knew it could be done. Even though I’m fairly young and of the generation who grew up with this technology – hyper-connected and uber social, I still remember a time when I had to go home to check my voicemail. I remember when dinner was just food and drink and conversation, when small talk was a courtesy and an art and when people couldn’t see what I was eating unless they were with me.

So, I read about National Day of Unplugging on Twitter somewhere. Surprise. I can always use a good cause (excuse) to get behind. A reason not to check emails from bed first thing in the morning and last thing before I go to sleep. A reason not to experience everything from behind a 4″ screen. Being on-demand is exhausting. It does something to you. It’s not healthy.

The premise: sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, no social media, no apps, no texting, no internet. Those might not be the official rules but I clarified for myself that a phone was a phone only. You talk on it. I also shut down my laptop. Turned that sucker off. No smart tv either – nada. I disconnected to feel more connected to what’s around me.

I easily stuck to the rules and timeline and I learned some new things, and some I’d forgotten, along the way:

1. I take amazing photos in my mind when I’m really seeing something. And the filter is one of kind.

2. To share those pictures in my head and do them justice I need to be a great storyteller. I need to be descriptive. I need to be authentic. I need to communicate in a way that is understandable to whomever I’m talking with. It’s an exercise that translates to how we communicate as marketers.

3. I miss writing, physical writing, with pen and paper. Cursive is a dying art in itself. Some schools have stopped teaching it and no matter the reason it breaks my heart.

5. Rarely is there a real good reason to hurry. Most deadlines are arbitrary and most drama is self-imposed or due to complete lack of planning.

6. I feel infinitely more creative within the margins. By “margins” I don’t mean “within the lines” or “within the rules” but rather within the margins between to-dos. The white space on my calendar, the times not working to meet a demanding deadline. It’s important for all of us to understand our individual process for the getting the best of our abilities in a way that is sustainable and allows us to do it long-term.

Taking care of yourself helps you take care of your customers and your business. Sometimes you have to disconnect in order to connect with what matters.

Have you unplugged recently? How’d it go? Share with us in the comments.

Photo credit: Ginny

Growing Our Business: A Look Ahead

880 461 Marsh Williams

When we started this little experiment we had several goals in mind: everyone will always be treated with respect, clients will always receive our best counsel, we will never take on a project just for the money, and we will create a culture where people get to showcase their talents, love what they do and love where they do it. Oh, yeah…and we will not compromise on any of these points.

So far we’ve done pretty well, but now comes growth.

Rightly or not, what we’ve created feels like a recipe of well-blended ingredients, but now we need to add in some new people, new skills and probably a new office. What’s this going to do? How do we add to the mix but not loose the flavor we’ve created?

At this point we’ve made two decisions about Shout Out’s growth, people are everything. Finding the right people with the right personalities and skill sets is absolutely essential, and in a showdown personality always trumps skills. Skills can be improved, but it’s a little tougher with personalities.

Secondly, we want to make sure we continue our philosophy of taking what we do very seriously, but not so much with ourselves. We need to stay true to ourselves. To manage this we have proclaimed Nathaniel our company Oracle; the keeper of the flame, our personality barometer. His sense of what is right and wrong for us is spot on, and last but not least it’s because we love calling him The Oracle.

Actually we’re going to do what every organization out there does: do the best we can. But, we’re going to journal this process of growth and see what we do learn. If you have any interest please join us and ask us any questions you have along the way.

Photo Credit: ortizmj12

laptop and notebok outside

Inspiration For Everyday Business

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It’s February. It’s down-right nasty outside. It’s still the beginning of the year so business is crazy. Considering all of this, it can be easy to fall into an inspirational slump. For us, creativity is at the forefront of what we do, so we have to fix this, stat. Last week we worked in a new office space for the day with color and creativity surrounding us and it was awesome. That space got me thinking; what are more ways to get out of the creativity slump in the bleak days of winter?

Switch it up.

The notebook you use, your regular schedule, the font you type in, the color of your nails. Simple changes, something new, can inspire you to switch it up mentally. Heck, even if there is something you really don’t like about your day, such as conference calls, make fun of it.

Have your meetings somewhere awesome.

We recommend gathering someplace where diversity and inspiration is around every corner. If you usually have your meetings in a small white room go crazy and have it at a cool space like this, or at a new coffee shop in town.

Focus on you.

It can be challenging to inspire a whole team, when all else fails, focus on inspiring yourself. Pick up that book you’ve been meaning to read. Catch a few Webinars or Podcasts for motivation. Doodle, even if its not good. When you are inspired it can catch like wildfire around the office. You can even do something great on the weekends like turn off your phone for a whole day (Say whatttt?!).

Do you have ways to stay inspired during the dull days of winter? Let us know.

Photo credit: David Joyce

Why Sales is No Longer About Selling

880 461 Nathaniel Seevers

My wife and I purchased a new car recently. Not a new car mind you but a “new to us” car. A budget-friendly, Ohio winter friendly, grown-up anti-college car, car.

It has just the right amount of bells and a humble, yet confident, whistle.

This was the first time at a dealership in a while. For some reason I guess I expected the approach had changed since the approach to so many other consumer interactions have, but nothing seemed that different.

I spent some time in new car sales during college. People who know me know how ridiculous that sounds. Not because there’s anything wrong with car sales. There are absolutely great dealerships and great sales associates out there. More because I’m what you might call a fumbling introvert.

It all got me to thinking about sales today. How it’s not really about selling at all if you’ve grown and evolved as purchasing habits have.

The facts, according to a study by Ravenhouse International, are sharp and they are this:

  • 7 out of 10 customers believe that the sales reps that service them are product-focused rather than customer-focused
  • Customers feel that only 1 in 10 sales reps adds any real value

So if Sales is not about selling now what is it about?

Externally it’s about:

  • Teaching  – not the feature-benefits but teaching what to expect in the process and after.
  • Clearing the misconceptions – allowing for transparency in who is involved, how the service/product compares and how there’s a real possibility that it doesn’t fit.
  • Acknowledgment of reservations. Hearing them, talking about them not talking around them.
  • Anti-segmentation. Less lumping into groups but more individualization. What’s that you say? You can’t “scale” like that? Focus your processes on quality over quantity.
  • Being a trusted advisor instead of a “consultative salesperson.” Here the conversation starts at a higher level instead of a transaction.

Internally it’s about:

  • A seamless connection between marketing, brand management and the “sales” interaction
  • The right mix of Direct and Indirect (inbound, content-driven) Lead Generation

“Gartner projects that “by 2020, 85% of all B2B transactions will occur without talking to a human.”

Whether the above-mentioned prediction holds true or not sales is not about selling anymore. The relationship has to start much sooner.

Thoughts or experiences on the subject? Share below.

photo credit: Alden Jewell

There’s Nothing Wrong With Saying No

880 461 Marsh Williams

At one point in my career, about 324 years ago, I had the privilege of working with Harry Gard, one of the original people behind CompuServe, and one of his favorite sayings was “…I’ve made more money saying no than I ever have said yes.”

I’ve always had a tendency to say yes and felt saying no to something, be it a client, a project, a whatever was a sign of weakness. “I don’t want anyone thinking there’s something I can’t do,” and that philosophy has probably created more problems for me than I want to admit. There’s nothing wrong with stretching yourself and learning, but overreaching and promising something just so you can say yes can cause a lot of problems.

But, over time, I’ve come to understand that know what can be done and what should be done in a given situation is a great strength. I’ve learned to say no. Oh don’t get me wrong I still hate to say no, but I’ve learned that it’s the best route in certain situations.

Two weeks ago we were in a meeting with a prospective client and we were asked if we could help them develop a retail marketing strategy for something. Could we? Maybe. (That’s nothing but arrogance speaking.) Should we? No. It’s way out of our experience and core competencies. I told them that it was just not something we were comfortable with and it would be lying to them if I said we could.

The CEO thanked me. What I was really prepared for was, “Well thank you but we’re looking for a firm with broader capabilities.” What I got was, “…thank you. That’s the most honest answer we’ve had in any of our meetings. I’m just sick and tired of everyone saying they can do everything.”

Did I want to tell him yes…of course, I’m a recovering pleaser, but I had to tell him the truth. He would have found out anyway and at that point, our relationship and credibility would have taken a huge hit.

Saying no is hard, there is no doubt about it, but if asked to do something outside your expertise or abilities, try it…I’d love to hear how it goes for you.

Photo Credit: gaptone

Picture of tools on table

Excellent New Marketing Tool for WordPress

776 415 Marsh Williams

Everyone has heard about marketing automation; the holy grail of business software solutions; at least this week. The solutions abound, HubSpot, ActOn, Infusionsoft, Marketo, and so on. They promise the moon, and for those with the human and financial capital to use them effectively, they actually deliver outstanding results. But what about the little guy, what about the small business that wants some of the same capabilities but has a staff of five and no money to spend. What do they do?

Well, using our superpower of prognostication we think we may have found one; LeadIn. We’ve been trying it out for the last few weeks and really like what we’ve seen so far. Clearly, it’s a work in progress, but it already is adding value to our organization.

In short, the current software provides capabilities to track individuals who visit a website and fill out any associated form, be it a request for information, a download of some sort, or joining a newsletter. LeadIn adds a tracking cookie to the visitors’ browser and automatically ads them to the LeadIn contacts section it will create in your WordPress site. In that sense, it is as powerful as the other options that cost thousands of dollars per month.

The folks at LeadIn are very much on the right track and have designs for bringing significant capabilities to the WordPress world.

Now the reason for this blatant plug…something we don’t do often…they need testers. Right now they are seeking to get as many people as they can accommodate to install the beta PlugIn and try it out. If this holds any interest for you, we hope you will check them out and we can all watch together as they move forward.

Photo Credit: tashland

picture of lego man screaming

Fear Driven Business Scares Me

880 461 Nathaniel Seevers

Business can be rough these days. The pressure is on to keep up with the demands and changing ideas of consumers – who seem to be spending less and less. Or maybe they’re just spending smarter.

The trends you jump on this morning are dying by sunset and new trends have moved in. Your competitors are innovating. New competitors are popping up every day – all full of personality and caffeine. Or piss and vinegar as my granddad would say.

I have no idea what those ingredients have to do with anything, but still.

And so, when the heat is on and there are decisions to be made that will have a ripple effect across the organization, far too many companies react based on fear. Like when you punch a haunted house worker even though you know it’s all fake.

It’s fight or flight. It’s instinct.

The difference between socking a guy wearing a zombie mask and leading your company or team with a desperate hand is that the former is a one-time event and the latter often turns into a habit. Those decisions can begin to build on themselves.  They stack up until you have to dig your way out. Change the culture.

Seth Godin talks about something similar here. He calls it Stoogecraft.

So how does one help prevent a layer of suffocating fear-based decisions? read more

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