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Gary Vaynerchuk Practices What He Preaches

April 15, 2011 3 comments

I originally interviewed and wrote this article for my FORBES blog, but wanted to ensure my readers received as well.

How many of you have ever reached out via email, Twitter or phone to an Internet superstar?

I have. Before writing this article, I gave Gary Vaynerchuk a test. I wanted to see if he really responded to all people, to see if he’s truly “engaged” and how much he “cares,” regardless of whether you’re a client or not.

He did and he does.

I emailed, asking him if I could ask him some questions about his New York Times bestselling book, Thank You Economy. Within 30 seconds, I had a response. “Phone number?”

While I was not able to get back to him at that exact moment, I responded back with my phone number later in the day and, again, received a personal response.

And finally on 3/30/2011, Gary called. He was on his way to an interview on CNN and he had put aside time for me. We connected and spoke.

And I found he is just as true to his concept as he said he was. He cares.

Thank you Economy was written for all of us. In typical Vaynerchuk fasion, the book was written from the heart, engaging us with a passionate intelligence surrounding business relationships and transactions. It’s for first-time entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 executives, and the first of its kind.

TYE demonstrates the ROI on social media. It outlines the dangers of “waiting” to see short term results and, most importantly, it clearly depicts what we are in the midst of – a humanistic revolution.

When I spoke with Gary, his thesis was so simple; yet he has proven to be the best at executing on it: “Be reactionary,” he said. “React to what the market wants. And the market wants one-on-one real time engagement. Now that we have the tools to engage, I’m going to continue fighting for the end user.”

TYE puts into words what we’ve all been trying to define since the onslaught of social media: what’s the best way to use it? According to Gary, we have the opportunity to regress back to the days before there was a Starbucks on every corner or a supermarket every five miles; using the same tactic we did when there was a locally-owned butcher or coffeehouse. Care about your consumer.

So simple, yet the U.S. economy has been so focused on “driving traffic” and mass media over the last 20 years, we forgot about our consumer. We looked at the numbers, and the efficiencies, but we stopped listening…Except for people like Gary.

When I first started the book, I admittedly thought it may be a bit elementary. The content of the introduction and first few chapters spoke of brands in a very similar fashion I had read of in college or other business books. There wasn’t any mind blowing differences in the actual content.

But as I continued reading, I found that Gary’s secret is not in the content. His secret is in inspiring and motivating others to act. In the book, he does this not only through passion, but also through specific examples and case studies showing the ROI of one-on-one engagement.

His reason for working IS the end user or the consumer. The consumer’s voice matters and we all need to not solely except that, but embrace it and use that first consumer to build our companies. We can all SCALE CARING.

And Gary certainly cares of everything in his life with the same fierce passion he does his consumer. When I asked him how he found the time to even write the book, his response, “We all have a different definition of work/life balance. Spending time writing this book was not remotely close to how happy I am when I’m with my daughter. But we need to cut out the fat.”

In the same conversation, he beeped over to take a call from his mom; but he did not beep over for business calls. What was cutting out the fat? “Stop doing things that waste time. Don’t replace time with your family or things that you NEED to do. I NEEDED to put together two fantasy teams this weekend because that’s something I enjoy, but did stop playing Nintendo Wii for hours on end.”

Gary has become a master author, a renown social media expert, the fighter for the end-user, and still remains a family man – able to see all the Jets games and do everything else he loves. How? By caring for the consumer.

And if you want to keep up and learn how to do this with your company, your personal brand, your product, and yourself; you’ll read his book too. Don’t pre-judge like I did at the beginning. Just read and be inspired. And then commit to Care.

Careers Do Not Belong in a Box

January 2, 2011 37 comments

The best ideas are those that lie ‘outside the box’. The top thinkers, innovators, and visionairies have all been considered ‘out of the box’. Similarly, those that have the appearingly ‘best’ careers are the ones who have taken the concept of ‘career’ OUT of the box.

Don’t wrap your career in a box. Don’t look at your career in a vacuum. It’s not static and if your idea of a career is static, you will become static as well.

Here’s the truth; if you’re looking for a career, you’re looking for the wrong thing.

What you should be looking for is something that makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning.

What you should be looking for is a way to continuously better yourself, continuously learn, continuously grow.

What you should always be seeking out – is your next adventure.

Certainly, that may take the form of something that turns into a career; or it may not.

Maybe what you’re looking for is to start your own business, maybe what you’re looking for is a contract – for a project that excites you, maybe you are good at several functional areas and it’s time to CHANGE what you thought was your ‘career’ path because all of the sudden, you’ve realized you’re a General Manager, but CERTAINLY you do not want to FORCE a career.

If you ignore this advice and continue to seek out a career, you will become part of the statistic that has changed so dramatically over the past decade. You will become one of the people who changes jobs an average of every year and a half, without promotion, but more importantly, without being happy.

By tying yourself into a career, you’re missing out on the most important part of your learnings; the different journey you take. The people you meet along that journey. Most importantly, your closing your mind to opportunities that may arise.

There’s probably a lot of people who will read this and think, “sounds good in theory, but I need to bring in some cash!” Of course you do – we all do. But bringing in cash and tying yourself to ONE career is NOT the same thing. Get a day job if you need the cash; but look for a day job that at least ties into something you love OR one that gives you enough free time at that “job” to work on your REAL passion – whatever that may be. A great example is Gary Vaynerchuck. He worked 12 hours / day at his retail wine shop and then built his own business at night – he worked almost every night from 8 PM – midnight. It took 2 years – but he did it. He launched his own business.

Another example is how I’ve designed my life. People ask why I consult and own my own businesses; and the reasons are very simple: 1) I don’t believe in a “career” as currently described in the marketplace 2) I haven’t yet found a job or group of individuals that meet the criteria set above; So, I take on projects and clients – I actually turn down more than I take on…and then I work on my own projects for free a couple hours / day. I have not “settled” for a job. I have figured out how to use my current skill set to continue making money. And I’ve ensured everyday is an adventure, every project is a learning opportunity, I only work for people who intrigue me, and most importantly, I enjoy my journey.

Your “career” can be anything you want it to be. Throw out the preconceived definition that so many cling to as a security blanket (definition of career) and define what a career is TO YOU!

Social Media as a “Closing” Tool for Deal Makers

December 7, 2010 4 comments

I’m a Facebook Stalker. 10 years ago, pre Facebook, some called me a “yenta”; I called myself a ‘fact finder’. In these times, we are all “Facebook Stalkers” to some extent; but the question you should ask yourself is WHY are you a FB stalker?

I use FB, Twitter, and Linkedin for several reasons but namely, I use them to find the “most efficient” way to close a deal. Business people constantly talk about the power of “LinkedIn”; I think FB is more powerful. What are the best sales executives good at? Closing deals. Why are they best at closing deals? Most will answer, “I can build rapport and build it quickly”.

So, how does FB play into this? Very simple; you connect with potential strategic partners, current and / or future customers and colleagues; and with those connections comes your “in”. You can review their interests, favorite books, movies, etc. and in conversation – you can bring them up. Perhaps you’ve read the same book or like the same movie or sports team.

You can look at their photos and see what’s important to them and / or what they do in their spare time. I recently closed a client who had the same type of dog as I did. She was “lukewarm” if I had to gauge her interest the first time we met. Then I connected to her on FB; saw that her profile pic was of her and her dog. I changed my profile pic to one of me and my dog. I wrote a note on her wall saying, “Looks like we have the same type of dog – what’s yours named?” Not only did we continue our conversation online, but she got back to me and invited me to fly out and meet with her executive team. The deal is closed.

What Kind of Wall Will You Build?

November 6, 2010 7 comments

A few years ago my job function was “technically” business development and operations. As with most start up environments, this was really just a title that was broad enough to encompass “anything that needs to get done”. That said, I was accountable for “marketing and sales deals” as well as devising the strategy and running the day to day operations of the company’s call center. There was not one area of the business that did not somehow effect either of these functions and as I was “employee 1”, I had a background or had worked in every other company function: building the website (design), developing the CRM (technology), driving traffic and tracking the sources/how they performed (analytics), setting up all clients and vendors (ops) just to name a few. The upside of the start up environment is the experience you get in a vast array of functional areas. The tough part is when you are told to focus in ONE or TWO areas, but you know enough about the other functions so when new employees are brought on, you are constantly working with them as well. What happens? You lose your focus.

Part of all of our journeys is to become self aware enough to recognize our faults, and choose either to fix them or use them to our advantage. At this time a few years ago my mentor sat me down and said the following,

“I assign you the project, ‘build a wall’. And you start building your wall; and it’s sturdy and beautiful – it looks like it’s going to be the perfect wall. But then, you look to your left and you look to your right and you see that your teammates have been told to build walls as well. However, their walls don’t look as good or as sturdy as yours. So, you leave your wall and you go to help them. You help them and guide them in building better walls for themselves and when their walls are done – they’re much higher quality walls than expected. You get back to finish your wall, and you’re almost done – but again you see someone who needs help on their wall; repeat performance. This time, however, when the wall is finished, you go back to your own wall and you find that the time to complete your project is almost up. You rush to build the rest of your own wall, and of course the quality suffers. When all is said and done, your team has 3 quality walls (not yours) and one semi quality wall (your wall). However, what I did not tell you is that your wall was the most important. Your wall was going to be the wall that protected the entire city and all of the other walls. I trusted you to build the most important wall because you were the most talented, the most tenacious, the most passionate; but you failed. You failed to build the wall I thought you would because you lost your focus; your passion for ‘people’ overran your passion to produce. You lost your focus.”

When my mentor told me this story, I understood. It was simple – he was telling me to focus on my tasks and stop worrying about everything going on around me. I was screwing up. What I did not realize then, that I do now – was that had I delved deeper into the story and continued a discussion, I would have realized way back then that I had a skill set that would set me on a new career path. While in a corporate environment working in one functional area, building others walls was not the ‘right’ way to perform. However, there is a whole industry of people who do nothing but “build walls” for other people. The industry is consulting. So while it took me a few years, I have realized what I’m really good at. I’m great at building other people’s walls. My “own wall” has manifested as a result of building others walls.

I think there are a lot of people who are stuck in boxes given to them by a title; who have the ability to add value in a myriad of functional areas and industries. Don’t stay in your box. Test yourself. Try building other people’s walls. It just takes one successful wall to gain the confidence to build another and then another. Eventually, you will have so many walls that you can quit your job and do nothing but creatively build other’s walls. It never gets boring; there is both short term and long term gratification; and like any famous wall – people will remember it was you who built it.

For the Love of the Game

October 8, 2010 4 comments

When Lebron James, Chris Bosch, and Dwayne Wade all joined the Miami Heat – controversy slammed the nation. From the New York Times to ESPN to TMZ, their decision was questioned. As a Miami Heat fan, I’m certainly biased on their decision; but there was an important factor that many of the sports analysts and news casters conveniently forgot to speak about when raining on this decision: These three players had left over $30 million on the table.

When interviewing all three of the players they each said, “I want to be challenged at practices so I’m always getting better” and “I wanted to be on a team where my teammates brought out the best in me” as well as “It was more important to me to be on a winning ‘team’ than it was to get the most money”.

So, while the move was controversial – having 3 Olympians on one time – it was almost analogous to a monopoly; in business and in life, people make decisions like this every time they are looking for a new job. Let’s examine the following: A VP of Marketing is offered two jobs; 1) A CEO position in a mid size company – massive salary, great options, equity, etc. 2) A Director level role with Google – far less money, no equity, and less options. Where does this VP go? He / she takes the job with Google. This is a story that happens everyday.

So how is this different than these three basketball players teaming up? As a ‘business’, Google wants the best and the brightest; they are not overpaying to get this; but because of the opportunity presented by Google, because of the great work environment, the brand, the security, etc. the CEO above chose to be a part of a great team vs. the “superstar” of an average team.

As I’m reviewing different job options, I frequently look back to the “Heat Trio” to remind myself that ‘money isn’t everything’. For those of us with unmatched passion and excitement about what we do, there are other factors that weigh far more than ‘making the most money’ or ‘being the superstar’.

So, while the controversy still abounds over these three players, I believe there are lessons to be learned:

To be a part of a dynasty, you may have to make monetary scarifices
Being a part of history, is more important than a super star
It may best serve you to be a part of a super star team for far less money than be the CEO of your own company

For Profit Edu Sector – Embrace Your Innovators

September 9, 2010 8 comments

Approximately 1.5 years ago, I left the innovative company I had helped build, Education Connection. I had found a new innovative company whose mission I loved, and I wanted the experience of working with the “state university” side of the online higher education industry; so I left my comfort zone and moved across the country to Dallas, Texas. I also wanted to “prove” to myself that I could be successful without my two mentors; I felt it was time for me to “grow” on my own.

This turned out to be a necessary part of my ‘journey’ as I was able to grow, learn how to interact with a different group of executives, board members, and cultures and also afforded me to opportunity to see how different working with state universities was vs. for profit universities. I was able to ‘prove to myself’ that I could be successful without my mentors, which was good and bad. Good because it made me more confident…bad because I certainly didn’t need anymore “ego feed”.

By adding this new subset of an industry and connecting with myriads of new individuals, I was able to see one thing: I had been working for (Education Connection) the most innovative and forward thinking group in the education space.

Based on the number of consulting and job inquiries I was recieving while at the second company (post working at Education Connection), I chose to start my own company. I believed this was a way for me to work with multiple companies, multiple executives, and would provide me with an unbelievable learning experience; the ability to interact and learn from the top executives in the higher education industry.

At this juncture, I’ve worked with about ten different higher education service companies, ranging from lead generation to call centers to enrollment management companies; and multiple schools. I have learned a lot, but my biggest learning was this: The only companies that will survive the new for profit education regulations would be the ones that invested heavily and believed in their innovators. In speaking with one of the executives I enjoy working with the most, a brilliant man named John Goodwin, he made a comment I use all the time now. He said, “The companies that come out of this education congressional hearings successful will be the companies that not only listen to their innovators, but more so will be the companies that have the ability to adapt the most quickly to a changing environment.” We were going back to Darwinism.

Having worked with all of these schools and companies, there is only one company that has come forth and displayed a pro-active understanding as well as comprehensive product offering to aid the for profit schools in their quest for higher graduation rates and higher re-payback rates on their loan; that company was Education Connection.

About 5 years ago, my prior CEO and mentor Richard Capezzalli said to me, “What will happen to the for profit education industry in the next several years is going to be cataclysmic.” I vividly remember this as 1) I didn’t know the exact meaning of cataclysmic and had to run and look it up. 2) We had recently started a lead generation company, Education Connection. I thought to myself, ‘why would we have started a lead generation company if the for profit industry is going to be shaken up so badly?’

In the subsequent four years and and 11 months, I learned the reasoning behind our ‘lead generation’ company; we were building a lead gen ‘model’ to learn the best ways to market to students, but the end goal was different. We were looking for students that yielded the highest graduation rates, or net tuition revenue; not solely the lowest cost per acquisition or cost per enrollment.

So after about two years of introducing ‘innovative break through’ #1 (we were the first lead generation company) that had employed prior admissions advisors and were warm transferring leads to the for profit schools at over 10% lead to start conversions; Richard, the innovator, introduced the true reason he was confident that EdConnect could take over the industry; at first, he called it “Future Scholars” (It is now called Test Drive College).

With the goal of advising and working with students who would yield the highest graduation rate, Richard quickly went back to his days of owning and running schools. He explained to his EC management team that 2 of the main reasons students did not stay in school were 1) They were not prepared for the rigors and discipline needed for online learning and 2) Across the entirety of the ‘edu lead generation industry’, we were marketing to people who were not “academically ready”. So, logically – if we were able to find a way to ensure that the students were 1) Academically ready 2) Had the ability to experience online learning (and not just a demo, a true class), the retention and graduation rates would rise dramatically. This would not only effect graduation rates in a positive manner, but would also positively effect loan re-payback rates and minimize loan default rates. There is a direct correlation between students graduating and having a higher payback rate.

The model went live with a large test utilizing two of the large for profit universities as ‘partners’ and while it took a year to get the student retention rates back, the test was wildly successful. “What is the model?” you ask. In it’s simplest form, students take an online accredited course (they can transfer into a school) for free; hence the word, “TEST DRIVE”. In order to be one of the chosen for this free course, the student first must pass a short test (SAT questions – I believe there are 20 of them), which demonstrates the student can sustain the academic climate in a college. Once the test has been passed, the student speaks with an advisor or “gatekeeper” as we liked to call them during the testing phase; whose job is to ensure that IF the student does “adapt” and is a “fit for online learning”, they will enroll in a school post taking the free online course. The goal was to ‘weed’ students out in this free course that did not like online learning. We only worked with students who were serious and who understood the value of the degree, the financial aid process, etc.

The tests were wildly successful. The hypothesis that these students would retain and have higher graduation rates was proven (patience was certainly a virtue as it took over a year for these retention numbers to come back). The company that had been the first to see these regulations would be coming (about five years before they came), the company that quickly executed on their innovative plan, the company whose tests were successful prior to any regulatory discussion taking place – this is the company that is positioned to aid the for profits in their quest to continue to help the students who have nowhere else to go. The company that was the first to embrace their innovator was Education Connection. Will you be next?

PEOPLE make start ups profitable. Period.

August 26, 2010 3 comments

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I’ve worked in 4 start ups and been successful 4 times. I define success in a start up as the company becoming profitable as well as a “going concern” business.

While my ego would like to think I can attribute these successes to my own intellectual superiority, I have become more of a realist. There have, however, been 3 constants to these successes and now consulting for numerous start ups, I’m shocked to find the minimal time and thought that goes into what I consider the initial recipe for success.

A strategic and well thought out human resource initial plan will

1. Hiring on 4 traits

Always list these 4 criteria in order of the ‘traits possessed’ for your potential hire:

Education
Motivation
Experience
Innate Intelligence

The order that will bring you a successful candidate in a start up world;

Motivation
Innate Intelligence
Experience
Education

What does this mean? It means that someone who is tenacious, ambitious, has unparalleled work ethic while also having the ability to make good decisions and think ‘outside the box’ is going to be far more valuable than the “MBA who has worked in corporate America for 5 – 10 years”. Certainly, there are roles for these folks, but not in the core of your start up executive, senior, or middle level management teams.

2. Sacrifice is KEY

Offer a very minimal base salary – regardless of the role. PAY FOR SUCCESS ONLY.

When you have team members that are confident enough in their abilities that they agree to being tied directly into accountability metrics to get paid, you have people who are ‘bought in’. Take the time to develop a monthly accountability plan. It may take you a couple hours to develop the ‘right’ plan and another hour to explain it to a colleague, but it will drive millions in revenue over time; as well as cut costs.

3. CUT THE FAT

Stop hiring people who do not have the ability to act in numerous roles. Oftentimes, I see start ups where executives can play numerous roles; they can develop and drive strategy on the marketing side, but also be an operator if needed – and most times a salesperson as well. Then when it comes to hiring senior and middle management, ‘executives’ seem to think that they should each have a vertical of employees reporting to them. Forget the vertical. Find senior and middle managers who can play multiple roles as well. YOU WANT TO HIRE MINI C.E.O.s.

For example, you don’t want just a ‘director of creative’, you want a creative designer who can design, code, has an e-commerce and technology background, can manage websites, QA the site, and has the operational background to project manage anything in your marketing department. Many start ups hire 1 “director of marketing”, 1 creative designer, another technology person. Find someone with all of these skills.

Another example; do not hire a “director of sales” or “director of marketing”…Hire a “director of revenue driving operations” or a “rain maker”. Find someone who can negotiate deals and don’t only use them on the business development side; use them on the marketing team as well – to work on marketing negotiations. If the individual is “innately intelligent” and “motivated”, they will pro-actively learn about all areas of your business (motivation) and adapt their skill sets quickly based on the knowledge (Innately intelligent). Combined with creative deal making and negotiation skills, you want your ‘revenue driver’ to also have had an operational background – who needs a sales / marketing operations person? Until you’re profitable – it’s a waste.

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