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Monkey See, Monkey Don’t?

Do you watch other business owners or mentors use techniques, technologies, strategies or tactics successfully – and then not try them in your business?

This isn’t just the domain of new, first time business owners who might be leery of trying something else, much less being swamped enough as it is.

Not long ago, I was sitting in a room with about 250 very successful business owners. Most of them had purchased the right to attend the seminar during a phone seminar or webinar.

While discussing entrepreneurs’ tendency not to stretch themselves (in particular regarding their sales/marketing), one of the speakers asked this question: “Everyone here bought access to this seminar during a phone seminar or webinar, so you know this selling mechanism works. Given that, how many of you use these types of seminars to sell your products?

No more than 20% of the people in the room raised their hand.

Remember, these are not new business owners. Most of them are running seven figure businesses. Yet most of them were not modeling the successful strategies that were working right in front of them – and in this case, strategies that had worked to sell them something.

What’s working right in front of you that you aren’t using?


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Black. Small Business. Cyber.

Waiting for weekend (TGIF) 244/366
Creative Commons License photo credit: Skley

Black Friday is behind us.

Small Business Saturday is behind us.

Cyber Monday is behind us.

So now what?

While these three events are primarily focused on retail, they expose an underlying weakness that most small businesses need to deal with.

Having a PLAN.

Maybe this seems obvious. It should, but the last small business owner survey I saw indicated that 74% of small businesses didn’t have a marketing plan, even though 89% of those same people felt marketing was their first or second most important task (they’re right).

Obvious or not, more businesses need to take it seriously.


Oh, I know. You’ve heard it before. And maybe you’ve tried it before.

Maybe you bought some software that regurgitates a fill-in-the-blanks marketing plan. Those things tend to come out like a slice of generic vegetable oil based “pasteurized process cheese food”. Not so appetizing.

That fill-in-the-blanks plan is probably not something you wanted to use, but if you did, maybe it didn’t work so well. Once one doesn’t work, it’s easy to assume that none will.

A recent survey of small business owners indicated that only 14% of business owners got the results they would like from their marketing plan. If you’re not in that 14%, that might be why you’re in the “marketing plans don’t work” mindset.

You’re half right. Bad fill-in-the-blank ones don’t. While sometimes the good ones don’t work, most of them do.

What’s your strategy?

But no plan at all is a recipe for (at the least) dependency on the price-driven chaos of Black Friday and events like Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. If you use Black Friday the wrong way, what impression does this leave about your store? Does it make people want to come back?

There’s nothing wrong with those three days, particularly if you’re smart about how you use them. But they’re only three days.

What’s your strategy for the other 362 days?

Is it low price? If that’s your only strategy and someone else’s prices are lower tomorrow, the stampede moves to their store. “Lowest prices ever” is only a valid marketing plan if you have the capital, clout and systems to profitably sustain it (eg: WalMart).


You might have started your business because you love what you do or what you sell, but somewhere in there, most small business owners also wanted more time, more money, more freedom and more control.

So why give it up by not managing your own marketing?

In most communities, November and December see an uptick in retail shopping on Black Friday, but depending on/waiting for that to occur and (per the mythical definition) bring you into the black is below you.

You need a better plan.

Just plan it

I’m not here to sell you a marketing plan. Sure, I could work with you on one, but that isn’t the point. The point is that you need one – a good one, no matter how/where you get it.

Whether you do it yourself or get some help, there are some questions you’ll need to answer.

Questions about your customers, for example. Visualize each type. What are they like? No matter what “store” means to your business, what gets them off the couch and brings them into the store? What results do they want?

For example, you sell animal supplies. Your customers might be large animal owners (ie: horses), ranchers, and people who like feeding migratory birds. Each group requires a different message.

Another question is “How do the needs of those groups change over time?” Are their needs different in October than in March? How should that change your message? That animal supply store knows that winter feed needs are different from summer feed needs and that mature animals eat differently than newborns. Different messages are necessary.

Simple, obvious stuff, but these questions need to be the basis of the plan you put together. There’s a lot of mechanical work to the how and what of delivering your message to just the right people, but you need to have the message and customer parts figured out first or the mechanics mean nothing.

Having a plan isn’t enough

Executing your plan and adjusting it based on your results is just as critical.

It’s a constant effort for those other 362 days, but your freedom is worth it.

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How a great system can help your business and your customers

What drives your pricing?

For many businesses, it’s strictly keystone. Cost times 2 or 3 (or some other number) = retail price.

A friend shopping for his college-aged daughter mentioned two tool kit prices to me. One item has red accents and is priced at $24.99. The other has pink accents and is priced at $14.99. The kits are almost identical, differing only in the box cutter tool housing – and tool handle coloring.

There is one other difference. The red item is not sold in stores. The pink one is not sold online. Not sure about the logic there.

What message does this situation send to the consumer? Is it just a mistake? Does it reflect solely on the vendor cost? Is the higher price intended to drive the customer to buy in the brick and mortar store, where the consumer is likely to find something else to buy?

No matter what the reason…it’s interesting.

Why do I mention this?

Because it reflects on the quality of your internal systems. Systems that are designed to help your customer. Systems that are designed to prevent embarrassment of your business and your staff. Systems designed to help you improve profitability. Systems designed to inform and advise.

A good retail system will identify substitute items when the item you want is out of stock. It might also tell you which store has that item, in the case of a multi-store retailer. It might also suggest similar items at a range of prices and colors – but only those in stock. It might even tell you that the Antarctic Blue Super Sports Wagon won’t be in for another 6 weeks. (props to Jupiter Chevrolet)

What does your system do? Who does it help? Who should it help? How can it be improved?

The items? Right here.

See for yourself at


See this one at

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What if you could email a hug?

Email is sometimes looked upon as an impersonal evil, but it seems impersonal because of the way most people use it.

I hope this discussion gives you an idea to improve your business’ email.

Not long ago, I sent a live plant to a memorial service over 2000 miles away.

I spoke with a very friendly and helpful lady on the phone when I placed my order. She made suggestions about what fit my needs based on what I told her and what they had in stock. Before it was all done, I’d ordered just what I wanted and I knew that the person on the other end would take care of sending just the right plant.

How’d that happen?

I never use a toll-free national floral delivery number. Instead, I look for the closest florists to the destination address and then check out their reviews until I find one that stands out. Once I’ve chosen a florist, I call them directly. As a result, I get the same local service I’d get if I walked in the front door and the local florist doesn’t have to pay a commission.

Last time I used this technique, I reached a florist at 12:30pm on a Saturday. On Saturday, they close at 2pm. Despite a 30 minute drive to the destination, they still made a great arrangement and got it delivered that day. Without complaint, without an extra charge, and the entire process was handled with classic Southern charm and courtesy.


Email can seem impersonal perhaps because we get a little lazy, or maybe just because we don’t think about it with the same care that we do other things. Even if we do it right…is it possible to make it a bit more personal?


Here’s a redacted copy of the delivery notification email I received:

I have no complaints about it. In fact, I rarely receive notification emails from local florists, so this is a nice plus to add to the service I received while on the phone.

But…it could have been better. So how to we make it more personal?


How about this?

Dear Mark,

After looking closely at the blooming plants we have in stock, I’ve selected
a fresh (plant common name) and arranged it in a nice basket that complements it.

I took a photo of your (plant common name) and the card before packing them for delivery:

Here’s the card:

Chuck, our afternoon driver, just sent me a message to say he has personally delivered your plant. He also delivered a small envelope of our custom-blended plant food with a card explaining the care and feeding of the (plant common name).

If you’d like to discuss your order or the plant I selected, please call toll-free at 800.yyy.xxxx and ask for me (Dorothy). If you prefer email, just click reply. Both our customer service department and I will receive your email. I will answer your email unless your question or comment is related to your payment.

I hope you’re pleased with the plant I selected and that you’ll keep us in mind the next time you’d like to brighten someone’s day here in (city). If you like, you’re welcome to request that I select your next floral arrangement or plant.

Thank you for supporting my family,

Dorothy Lastname
Certified Floral Artist since 1982
(florist business)
(store phone)
(store URL)

PS: Your order number is 0387xxxx and was delivered at 1:56 p.m.

Please fill out our quick online survey by following
this link and be entered to win a $50 gift card.
(survey url)


What would you change?

Does it make sense for your business to email a hug?

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Every customer listens differently. Can they hear you?

In the TED talk “The danger of a single story“, Chimamanda Adichie shares some powerful lessons about stories, their environments and how they form our assumptions. It’s notable that she sees this from two sides: both, assumptions she and her family made and those made about her and her country/continent.

Once you’ve watched this, and yes, I realize you’re investing 18 minutes+ into this post, you’ll be much better prepared to consider the point of this post – that your business’ story is multi-faceted and the risk of telling just one story is shortchanging your business.

To put it in terms that fit the election season’s political rhetoric: If you are a fervent member of the blue party, when someone from the red party talks – I suspect you probably dont accept that the point that they’re making is worth listening to. Likewise, if you are a fervent member of the red party, when someone from the blue party tries to make a point, the situation is likely the same.

Are you “Talking to the hand”?

The stories your customers listen to might not be quite as highly charged as political conversation, but they still might be ineffective because your customer might feel you aren’t speaking to the problems/concerns they have.

The moment they think you aren’t talking about their problem, you may as well not be talking to them. It doesn’t matter if they are wrong / misguided / misinterpreting your story. It’s over as far as that conversation is concerned.

This is what makes it critical to know your ideal customers inside and out. Their needs, wants, fears and more. Every one of those requires you to tell a different story.


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Starting A New Business : Part 3 – Marketing

Chester 2
Creative Commons License photo credit: Yatmandu

Good marketing doesn’t need to lie.

If you have to lie to sell your stuff, either your stuff isn’t worth buying or you aren’t worth buying it from.

Harsh words? Not if you want to stay in the business you’re about to start.

These days, buyers are empowered by the information made available to them by other buyers. I don’t have to list all the websites with ratings, reviews and so on. You already know them – they’re the sites where lies are documented (along with the good stuff).

Remember how easy (and perhaps even pleasant) it is to do business with someone you trust?

When it’s clear that you can trust the person on the other side of the table, the other end of the phone conversation, behind the register or on that website, it gives you the freedom to choose the best product or service. Building that trust is part of the job of good marketing.

Think about it. What store drives you crazy? Now consider the one that you love. The differences between them might be minor but they are significant enough that you’d never choose the drives-you-crazy store. Which one is easier to sell?

Remember the source

Consider when a business says something like this: “We’re the leading vendor of (some random product) in the valley.” The leading or A leading? Leading how? Without proof, you’re not so likely to believe an ad that makes that claim unless it includes some plausible evidence.

Now consider when several of their customers tell you that a business is the only place to go for certain items and then *justify that assertion with a glowing description of their experiences*.

The difference between those two claims? Proof that comes from a trusted party – what I usually call “testimonials”.

Standout execution that meets or exceeds what your marketing promised are what seals the relationship and generates the word of mouth proof you want.


People are conditioned to receive poorly-targeted, poorly-timed marketing delivering the wrong message because they see so much of those things.

While they may not realize that they’re subjected to poor marketing, they’ll react more predictably to efforts that are well-timed and targeted. That alone usually stands out from everyone else in your market.

Good marketing is trackable. It delivers a message that fits the recipient and where possible, their situation. It’s designed to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time. It communicates the reason why people should do business with you rather than everyone else in your market.

Your marketing needs to answer your “reason why” question: “Why should you do business with us instead of everyone else?”

Fedex uses “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” Clear, concise, has obvious value to the right customer and they back it up with quality. Your core concept, in conjunction with your focus on your ideal customer(s), has to be just as obvious and backed up similarly.

Look at the recent pitch from the JCPenney retail chain, which you could paraphrase as “Good pricing every day without gimmicky sales.” Frequent sales and coupons sent out every week devalue your goods and condition people to buy only when there’s a sale or a coupon. These practices subconsciously teach your clientele that you product isn’t worth full price.

Promotions provide a reason why, but they don’t necessarily discount/devalue what you sell.

Good marketing is planned, not random. It provokes an action: What do you want the customer/prospect to do next? Visit a website? Make a call? Come into your store? Test drive?

On target

Many of the questions from Starting a New Business : Part 2 are critical considerations for your marketing.

For example, I asked you to consider the question “Are you familiar enough with your prospective ideal customer to enter their market?”

It’s a pretty important question. Who is your ideal customers? There might be several core groups. Go back over those questions from last week and figure out who they are. Describe them in detail. That will help you know how, when and where to speak to them as well as what they need to know in order to make a buying decision.

Good marketing doesn’t need to lie.

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Etsy’s Social Commerce: Smart at Christmas

Etsy’s new Facebook app, the Gift Recommender, is a smart move and a great example of ways to use your data to attract more business.

I’ve no doubt that some will see Etsy’s “social commerce” via Facebook as “creepy” or invasive, but I suggest you give it a try to get an idea how this new app might impact your business or generate some ideas.

If Facebook isn’t your thing, but any form of retail is, create a test Facebook account with a throwaway email address so you too can see what the fuss is about.

Etsy is widely known for their belief in automated software testing. You can read about their latest project in their developers’ blog at

Hat tip to Scobleizer for pointing it out.

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The ROI of Social Media is…

Two minutes and change that hit some of “the what and the why” discussed during my Social Media – A Roadmap for Small Businesses talk this week.

The ROI of social media is that your business is still here in five years.

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Where’s my concierge?

One of the rungs on your ascension ladder should include cater-to-their-every-whim service – within the context of your business.

Audible has figured this out, as you can see from the screen shot above.

I’ve told you about my use of it in the software business (“done-for-you software setups in 7 days, guaranteed”) as a way of getting new users started quickly as a way of increasing sales, improving our percentage of sales closed and improving our service so that renewal / maintenance agreements were a non-issue.

Have you figured it out? If so, I’d like to hear what your “cater to their every whim” concierge service is like.

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Marketing inside the Tasting Room

Puit d’Amour from St. Honoré Boulangerie

This past week, I had the pleasure of visiting the still somewhat chilly seaside of Oregon thanks to a handful of out of town appointments.

In between the productive parts of the week, we managed to visit a couple of western Oregon wineries.

While a good time was had by all, I found it interesting how different each winery’s tasting room experience was designed to sell.

The Fancy One

This winery, created originally as a farm by a Montanan from Butte, was a bit upscale, sizable and very clean. It was a long-established place, noting that “long established” means “since 1980 or so”.

They’re that new because ash from Mount St. Helens’ eruption killed most crops in the area, changing the soil for decades to come.

The room said “old money” (dark, massive woods). While there were a few sweatshirts available, the retail portion of the room was all about the wine. Lots of it. Information from two inconsistently dressed but very sharp wine servers was on target, friendly and as detailed as you wanted. They clearly loved talking wine.

The Spartan One

This tasting room had a simple, fuss-free entry off of their gravel parking lot behind the wine production area. There’s a bar, a few barstools and an area clearly used for packing shipments. All in the tasting room. The lone wine steward was reasonably well-educated about the wine but didn’t really provoke the conversation.

The Homey One

This one was very new, expecting to bottle their own wine from their own grapes for the very first time this year. Previously, they’ve made wine using grapes from nearby vineyards.

The tasting room was homey, if not a bit cluttered with every wine accessory and kitsch you could think of. A yellow lab was chilled out on the floor. A guitarist was just outside the tasting room’s open door, playing in shaded patio seating area. Unfortunately the wine at this place wasn’t very good. The staff was right at home, downright friendly and maybe even too at home if that’s possible.

The Experienced One

This winery was almost 20 years old. Their marketing materials (online) referenced comments by a well-known reviewer. The tasting room was small, uncluttered and while it had wine accessories, they include only those focused on a better wine experience (vs. coasters and talking corkscrews).

Staff was knowledgeable and friendly in an average sort of way. Nothing bad, but nothing outstanding.

What struck me

While we didn’t visit all of the wineries (there are quite a few), the ones we did visit took very different approaches to their goal – presumably that of selling wine.

In every tasting room, there was little to take home other than wine that would bring you back to them to buy more. Few items had a website address on them – at least those that you could take with you.

No one asked us for contact information, not even those who sold us a bottle of wine.

In some cases, there were Oregon wine country brochures and/or county-specific winery marketing association brochures, rather than winery-specific info.

Every winery but the “Fancy One” was out of “wine menus”. These are descriptive sheets about each of their wines that left you room to take notes and perhaps note which one you prefer over another and why. In two different places, the only one they had was leftover from a Memorial Day special event – in both situations, it was the last one they had.

Why is this important?

How will they choose?

Out of the 40+ wineries in that Oregon county, during our visit they often have but ONE chance to get a visitor to fall in love with their place, their wine, their mystique, and the grapes that only they know how to nurture.

These small facilities (small in the wine world) sell at most one wine in retail locations. Some sell only at the winery. That’s right – they have no retail presence.

Ordinarily, you’d want these visitors to ask their local store for your wine, but they often can’t. Their small production (number of cases produced annually) prevents widespread distribution. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you’ve got to get them loving your stuff quickly in that situation.

Think about trying to penetrate (much less stand out in) mainstream retail wine shelf space the next time you walk into a grocery that carries wine (or a wine center store). It’s like looking at the salad dressing bottle shelves at WalMart. Your eyes glaze over at all the choices.

When the mind is presented with a zillion choices, one of two things tends to happen. People take the default choice (Gallo?, Wishbone?) or they make no choice at all. Next time you’re in your local grocery, watch people look at the wine shelves. They’ll look and look and in many cases, they’ll give up and take a Gallo (or whatever they saw on TV recently, or whatever is on sale).

Why? Because no one stands out in that environment. That’s why you see more and more outlandish labels and wine names. They know their bottles are on a shelf with 200 others so they’ll do A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G to catch your eye.

What do you want me to do next?

Knowing that the competition (where you might not be stocked) often caters to “How much?”, why wouldn’t you try to hook folks while they’re in your tasting room? It’s the best possible situation for the winery. They can’t grab a Gallo. They can shop by price, but they still get to taste before they buy. They have experts to help them choose what fits their taste buds and their budget.

There’s something else critical about that the tasting room visitor: She walks in the front door with a sign over her head that says “I like wine and I’m willing to drive all the way here to try YOURS.”  Think about how often you get the opportunity to make a first impression on someone who has tipped their hand that strongly.

What does the winery want them to do next? Beyond taking home a case (or even a single bottle), they want these visitors to go home and order more of their wines online (if they can). They want them to ask their local store to stock or custom order them. They want their visitors want them to go to the DailyGrape and watch Gary‘s reviews of their wines and then order from him.

If that’s what you want them to do, you have to make it easy.

And now, it’s your turn.

Now…think about the “browsers” who enter your business. Think about the first time buyers and, where appropriate, the tourists who enter your business.

How do you “stick” in their minds? How do you help them return, even if all they can do is return to your website?

Wineries have to deal with customers in states (like Montana) who cannot (easily) have wine shipped to them due to arcane laws put in place (and kept there) by fear-driven trade associations.

In one way or another, we all have situations like that, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take every step possible to make it easy to buy. How are you making it “easy to buy” even for your customers who have to exert effort to do so?

Let’s simplify that a bit: How are you making your stuff easy to buy?

What do you want them (your visitors) to do next?