Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Brainstorm Sales Ideas To Energize Your Performance

To come up with new ideas, try continual brainstorming. You’ve probably been in brainstorming meetings with your management and other salespeople. The creative selling brainstorming techniques are the same ones you’d use in a group meeting but you use them on an individual level. It’s great to participate in group sessions, but you can’t rely on them alone to generate the large number of ideas you’ll need as a creative seller.

The first step is to choose a prospect need from your research into them. Write it down and, on the page below it, make a list of possible ways your company’s products or services could help the prospect reach that goal. And follow these ground rules of successful brainstorming as you’re writing down those ideas.

1. There’s no such thing as a bad idea. Write it down even if it’s impossible. Especially write it down if anyone in the room says “We’ve never done that before.” Reserve judgment until later.

2. See how outrageous you can be. Free-associate and put it down on paper. The wilder the idea, the better. Crazy ideas spark more ideas—mundane ones are dead ends.

3. Fill the page—then start another one. Quantity is your goal because the more ideas you list, the better the odds of finding a good one.

4. Don’t stop when you come to the “right” idea. There could well be a better one waiting to come out.

You don’t have to have a group of people to brainstorm, either. You can do it by yourself if you just open your mind and let it create.

Step two is to review the ideas and combine or extend them, creating new ideas through the interplay of the elements of other ideas. Again, don’t be judgmental. It’s not yet time to throw out bad ideas. This combining and extending process should add ideas to your list of possibilities, not remove them. As you’re doing it, you’ll probably come up with some entirely new ideas, too.

There are several ways to stimulate your brainstorm production. Look internally to see if there are any company-generated solutions that could possibly apply. Many companies package their products or create bundles of services that are designed to meet the needs of certain categories of customers. You certainly don’t want to ignore those. The only caution is to be sure the pre-packaged offering exactly fits your prospect’s particular goal. You may need to “tweak” the package to make it work.

Another source is free association with non-related concepts. This is a fancy term for stealing the germ of an idea from someplace else. One of my associates who is in the marketing business will often monitor television commercials or thumb through magazine ads to see if there’s a slogan or concept he can “borrow” to serve as the springboard for his own idea. He’ll take a character like Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger, for example, and see if he can create a version of it for his client. Maybe an animated cat named Karla the Kitten who purrs “You’rrre grrrand” when it’s owner feeds it Brand X. Or he’ll lay out a slogan like “You’re in good hands with Allstate” and plug in his client’s name and products to see if they fit. He may come up with, “You’re in good form with Diet Rite.” He’s not exactly stealing the other person’s idea, just using it to spark his own.

Another place to start this process is to examine past sales to like customers. Don’t look at the dollars and cents or the unit volume. Look deeper and see if you can determine or surmise why the customer made that purchase. Talk to the salespeople who made the sale and pick their brains about the circumstances and events that led to it. The veterans in the sales department (and the managers, too) are usually full of stories about their many battles and victories. Next time you’re subjected to a war story, see if you can detect the idea that sparked the battle instead of politely nodding through it. Sometimes a polite “Why?” will prompt the story teller to reveal it you.

Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for small business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, hiring, firing, and motivating personnel, financial management, and business strategy.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Advertising's Nasty Four-Letter Word

Back in the good old days when parents actually corrected their children’s behavior, your mother might wash your mouth out with soap if you used certain four-letter words. Today, you should do the same to whomever writes your advertising (even if that’s you) if your ads contain the most offensive four-letter word in advertising, “have.”

It’s scary how often we hear this terrible, nasty word. “We have name brand merchandise.” “We have friendly, knowledgeable personnel.” “We have the latest equipment.” “We have everything from soup to nuts.” You don’t need to look very far to see how prevalent the "have" approach is in retail (and other) advertising. Newspaper ads tell readers what the store has with pictures of items with prices next to them. TV spots show pictures of items with prices superimposed on them and an announcer telling the viewer what they are seeing. Radio commercials do the same without the pictures.

Why is it a bad practice to tell the customer what you have? Because that takes up expensive space and time that could be put to much better use giving the customer a reason to do business with you. Good ads don’t tell the customer what you have. Instead, they answer the key question, “What’s in it for me?” That’s an important distinction to make when every advertising dollar needs to produce maximum results. The lack of worthwhile information in advertising is one of the main reasons people tune it out and why so much advertising doesn’t produce results. When customers stop listening to your advertising, it’s money down the drain.

Learning how to demonstrate product benefits instead of features is one of the most important skills a salesperson can master. The same holds true for good advertising. A benefit is something that satisfies one or more of the customer’s needs. A feature is simply a component of the product. People don’t buy features and products; they buy benefits.

Keep in mind that prices in your ads are nothing more than features of the items you’re selling. And like other features, prices don’t mean much out of context. So the same principle holds true: Don’t just tell the customer how much it costs; tell them what benefit that price delivers. Instead of saying “All gloves are 50% off,” tell the customer to “Buy two for the price of one.” Or, even better, “Protect your hands two times for the price of once.”

There are two exceptions to the “have” rule. The first is when you want to announce something new or exclusive—and even then a benefit should be included. The second exception is in the print or online Yellow Pages. Customers usually use this medium to find specific items, so you do need to tell them you have what they’re looking for. These customers are generally knowledgeable about what they need and want—-they’re just looking for a source. That’s also why it’s a good idea to spread your listings among many headings—-you increase the chance of reaching someone looking for a specific type of product or service.

Communications expert Dorothy Leeds says that every customer listens to their own personal radio station, called WII-FM. That stands for “What’s In It For Me.” Good advertising is like a song that gets played often on that radio station. So stop using that four letter word “have” and start telling the customer what you’re going to do for them. Give them a reason to get in their SUV, drive to your shop, and open their wallet. Tell them how they will benefit from doing business with YOU.

Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for small business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, hiring, firing, and motivating personnel, financial management, and business strategy.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Grab Attention With Unusual Advertising

The sounds of a baby crying or a telephone ringing are impossible to ignore. Can the same be said about your advertising? Getting your prospective customer’s attention is the crucial first function of every ad, whether it be in print, broadcast, or on the side of your delivery truck. People pay attention to the unusual and the unexpected. As advertising legend David Ogilvy once wrote, “When you advertise fire-extinguishers, open with the fire.” There’s nothing wrong with the blunt direct approach as long as it accomplishes the task at hand without undermining the rest of your ad’s message.

Each advertising medium has its own repertoire of techniques to help you capture the prospective customer’s attention. In print ads, headlines and illustrations help pull the reader in. The Newspaper Association of America, citing a study they commissioned by Roper Starch Worldwide, says that showing the product attracts readers 13% more than not showing the product. Multi-product visuals in ads are 25% more likely to attract readers and, in ads where three-quarters of the space is devoted to illustrations, recall rates improve by 50%. Using full color in an ad increases its recall by 20% over black and white.

Pictures aren’t everything, though. At one time, David Ogilvy estimated that five times more people read the headline than read the body copy in a print ad, so attention to the big, bold type at the top of the ad pays off, too. After all, it’s the job of the headline to make the reader want to continue looking at the rest of the ad. There are many standard headline-writing techniques you can use. Making it read like a news bulletin is one. Another is to offer “congratulations, you’ve won” and entice the reader to dig deeper to discover the prize. And don’t underestimate the power of the ever-popular word “free” to motivate someone to try to learn more. Just make sure when using come-ons like these that they are legitimate; a deceived reader makes a lousy customer.

Many of the same principles apply to getting attention in radio. Instead of pictures, though, you use sound effects, music, and high-impact copy. Regardless of the methods you use, it’s essential that your radio commercial sound different from the programming on the station on which it’s playing, since radio is often in the background of the listener’s consciousness to start with. If you’re advertising on a talk station, use music. If you’re running on a country music station, try spots that sound like news. Whatever you do, make sure it doesn’t just blend in with the sound of the station.

Television advertising presents a dilemma. On the one hand, it’s hard to get the viewer’s attention because of the cluttered ad environment. On the other, it’s easy because you have so many different and effective tools to use. You not only have an illustration, it’s in color and you can make it move. And, with today’s digital effects technology, you can make it jump, jiggle, dance, or morph in very unexpected and unusual ways. You get to use sound effects, music, and dialogue, too.

Don’t be afraid to try unconventional tactics to get attention with your television (or any other) advertising. Sometimes, an offbeat approach pays unexpected dividends. The single most important factor in gaining attention is being different. The crying baby always draws a response--unless it happens to be in the newborn room at the hospital where there are fifteen others crying the same tune. To make your ads work, make them stand out. It pays to pay attention to attention.

Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for small business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, hiring, firing, and motivating personnel, financial management, and business strategy.