Why LinkedIn Just Became My New CRM

Oh, LinkedIn! Just when I think you can’t get any better, you find a way to become even more useful. I think back on when we first met in 2005, I was a budding young sales executive, you were a new website that let me find new clients. Who knew that eight years later we’d still be so close.

In 2007, I wanted you to show me faces — and you did

In 2008, a recruiter at Capital One found me. I had fun there but had to spread my wings

In 2010, I launched a business with my best friend (who is now my spouse and father to my child). You gave me a jump start because so many of my co-workers wrote recommendations for me. 

And today, you just made my life even more awesome by launching LinkedIn Contacts and integrating with my Google Calendar. Why am I so excited, you ask? Well, when I worked in sales, I relied on my Contact Relationship Manager (CRM) to help me stay in touch with my network. I used ACT!, but when I switched over from PC, I could no longer get the software. Your system takes the two features I used most from ACT! (calendar and to-do) and integrates them. I’m really excited about the potential. The feature set today may be a little wonky (I can only see today and the iPhone app is only showing one contact), but I have faith that you’ll update soon and we’ll be on our merry way making the world a better place. 

Of all the social networks I’ve invested in over the years, you’re the one that has done the most for my career. Thanks for keeping me on my toes! 

What’s Your City’s Icebreaker Question?

Each city has one. The get to know you question that EVERYONE seems to ask. Be it baby shower or a business networking event, you’re bound to hear it from someone.

In DC, be prepared to answer “What do you do?”

Some people find this a materialistic and status probing question. I did too at first. There’s something a little intimidating that automatically rouses your defenses when you feel like you’re being judged. But after years of living in the city, I found myself asking this question not because I was curious of someone’s occupation, but rather their activities.

Washingtonians are renowned for their go-go-go (when they’re not in traffic) mentality. I think this question is more a reflection on the active nature of the culture, rather than a direct inquiry about someone’s professional life. Often, I would receive a reply of hobbies that would segue and blossom into a conversation about common interests.

“What do you do?”

“You know, recently I’ve been really into Salsa dancing. I’ve been going on Monday nights to the Clarendon Grille and met some really great people!”

“Really? I love salsa dancing. I’ve been to the Salsa Room, but never the Clarendon Grille. What time do lessons start?”

When I moved to Richmond last November, one of the first things I noticed was the complete lack of  “What do you do?” In fact, if I asked it, people seemed insulted, and it took me a while to navigate the icebreaking etiquette of this smaller southern town.

In Richmond, you’ll be asked “Are you from here?”

Richmonders are all about a sense of history and roots. Growing up 20 minutes north of the city, I remember not being considered “from here” because my parents moved here when I was 10 months old. Most of my classmates had generations anchoring them to this region, while I wasn’t even born here.

I think another reason it’s a popular question is that so many people (like me) grow up here, move away, and then move back. If you grew up in the area, there’s an immediate sense of camaraderie and more detailed questions that follow (i.e. “What high school did you go to?”)

If you grew up outside of Richmond, the standard follow-up seems to be “So, what brought you to Richmond?” I ask this often because I’m amused at why people settle in such a seemingly obscure place.

So, what’s the icebreaking question in your town? Have you noticed a trend in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, San Francisco, Boston, or another metropolis? What about across the pond? Do Europeans have an opening question? Eager minds want to know and would be thrilled if you left a comment below. 🙂

How to Get More Customers (Even If You Hate Selling)

www.gardenplantmarkers.comMy mother created what I think is a purple cow. An avid gardener, she was frustrated with the market’s lack of a quality garden plant marker, so she set out and created her own. Every gardener she’s shown it to flips over how great these things are – so simply showcasing the product should be enough to create a selling frenzy, right? Wrong.

“If you build it, they will come” may have worked for Kevin Costner, but if you as an entrepreneur embrace this laissez faire philosophy, prepare to watch the product to which you’ve dedicated so many hours die on the vine. Selling is a simply a critical skill to success.

However, if you’re like my mother – the thought of selling is overwhelmingly intimidating. Over homemade chicken soup on Sunday she expressed how, “I’m simply not wired that way. I get nervous and the words just don’t come out right.” Sound familiar?

If so, read on for ideas on how you can pitch your product without feeling like you’ve underminded your integrity.

Enthusiasm Makes the Difference
Norman Vincent Peale was right – if you can’t get excited about your product or service, who will? Do you believe you’re the best? Deep down in your gut do you know that someone’s life will be just a little better because of what you’ve created? Then let those feelings show. Passion is contagious. When you’re genuinely happy and wholeheartedly believe that your product is the best on the market, that confidence can help your conversion rate.

Action: Often when we get excited our hearts beat stronger, we talk faster, louder or softer. However, these are signs of being nervous and uncomfortable – not self-confidence. Set up a video camera to record yourself. Sit down, stare directly into the camera and answer this question – “Who is someone special in your life and what are the qualities that make you love them.” Pause. Get a glass of water. Sit down and stare again while answering this question – “What is your product/service and why should someone buy it.” Then watch the tape. Do you notice a difference in the intonation and inflection of your voice? Chances are you were more comfortable talking about your someone special than your product. Continue recording until you are equally as comfortable with your product.

Use a Net – Not a Pole
If your product is fulfilling a specific niche (which it should) blasting your message and seeing who bites may not be the most effective use of resources. Instead, go to places with a high density of potential customers. Think of catching fish in the ocean with a single pole versus catching fish in a barrel with a net. The “barrel” might be a chat room, blog, forum, conference, or event where people are saying “Help – I have this problem and need a way to fix it.” When they ask for a solution and you provide it, you’re not selling – you’re solving.

Action: Brainstorm places where your potential customers might hang out in high numbers. Think beyond the tried and true and attempt to uncover unconventional places to market your product or service. Then go there with your I’m-here-to-help-you attitude.

Sell by Referral
Form relationships with other entrepreneurs who offer a complementary product or service and cross-pollinate your prospects. For example, when I was a freelance writer, I spent a fair amount of time meeting with graphic artists and graphic designers. Why? I knew that a potential client would most likely seek out their profession first when a project arose. By educating my partners on the value I brought to the client, they happily recommended me when a client needed help with their writing.

Action: Who are your potential partners? Write down a list of products or services your customers use in addition to yours. Then, seek out places where these referral sources congregate, go there and begin to make friends. Often time these relationships take time, so be patient and give these new relationships the care they deserve.

Related Links

7 Lies that Prevent Your Great Idea from Becoming a Real Business – by Greg Go

How Sales Techniques Work – by Lee Ann Obringer

Marketing For the Deer-in-the-Headlights Crowd – by Dawn Rivers Baker

Increase Brand Awareness with Clever Copy in the Nooks & Crannies

Hiding in the corners beneath the bold headlines, under the compelling benefit statements, and around the action-packed verbs are bountiful opportunities to inject your brand with personality. A recent trend is “nooks & crannies copy” as I’m calling it, because it often pops up in unexpected places. Here are three examples:

1. Yahoo Chat

Yahoo Chat Screenshot \

While it may be difficult to see in this picture, Yahoo has brilliantly introduced humor into their chat feature. Between the conversation above and the text box below is the status report indicating if the other person is typing a message. However, instead of a plain and boring “Apple123 is typing a message….”, yahoo has sprinkled clever anecdotes such as:

  • Apple123 really should learn to type with more than two fingers…
  • STAND BY FOR A MESSAGE FROM APPLE123
  • Apple123 is about to drop knowledge…
  • Apple123 is hammering out a wicked comeback…
  • Bate your breath, Apple123 is typing…

among a plethora of others.

While not directly selling anything, introducing conversational wit in this unexpected place allows Yahoo! to showcase their brand’s personality. It gives the user the impression that Yahoo! is a fun, easy to work with company that doesn’t take itself to seriously.

2. Verizon Wireless

Verizon Highspeed Internet Loading Icon

Located directly before a purchasing decision, this otherwise overlooked loading page has been transformed into a mini flash ad that reinforces the product’s effectiveness right before the sale. The ad shows an animated film strip loaded with a series of technological leaps. The last one, “From Dial Up…To High Speed Internet” subtly suggests “You wouldn’t live in a cave, would you? Then why on earth would you have dial up?” An effective suggestion, I would imagine.

3. You Need a Budget (YNAB)

YNAB screenshot

Jesse Mecham, the developer of YNAB, tells the story of how he and is wife needed a personal budgeting system. They developed a simple excel spreadsheet that over the years has developed into a sophisticated yet user-friendly budgeting tool. While the site has been dramatically improved on the design side, Jesse still maintains the heartfelt honesty in his conversational copy, as evidenced by the “Download Update” screen for his product. He is an accountant, and occasionally a grammatical error will pop up in his copy, but it doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to the bottom line. His conversational style is obviously effective due to the growth and endorsements of YNAB.

Related Links

Three Tips to Make Your Copy Conversational – by Mila Sidman

How to Make the Online Sales Copy for Your Website More Conversational – by Evelyn Lim

The Right Way to Write Sales Copy – by Anthony Vicenza

The Empathetic Marketer

Here’s a riddle for you – what is the most important character trait a successful marketer must possess? Analytical skills? Shrewdness? Communication? While all of these are important, I believe empathy trumps them all.

Empathy is not to be confused with sympathy, which is simply feeling compassion or sorrow for another person’s misfortune. Instead, empathy is the unique ability to take the facts of a person’s situation and translate them into an understanding of their feelings and motives. In other words, stepping into someone’s shoes.

Empathy is the key to successful marketing.

1) Empathy will encourage you to listen to customer feedback so you can improve your product or service. Take for example Proctor and Gamble, who realizes the benefits of having customers give ideas instantly. Products such as the Swiffer and Crest Pro-Care Mouthwash were all inspired by real problems customers faced. P&G took this information, created a better product (a Purple Cow according to Seth Godin) and was able to better compete in a crowded marketplace.

2) Empathy will help you create a message that connects with customers. Are you struggling to move past the bland and generic world of messages so diluted and generic that they loose all impact? Then sit down and work on your empathy. Close your eyes and ask yourself the following questions:

If I were this person how would I….

– feel about the situation?
– attempt to resolve it given what is currently in the marketplace?
– react to a given message?
– search for information?
– tell my friends about something that is good or bad?
– want to be treated?
– be motivated to make a purchase (i.e. do I shop because something is inexpensive or because it’s high quality?)

Once you’ve stepped into the shoes of your target market, you’ll find the right message stands out bright and clear.

3) Empathy turns marketing into a field of service. For years marketing has been perceived as an industry that manipulates public opinion and as a result marketers have a pretty bad rep. I believe that marketers have the capacity to truly make a difference in the world by bringing consumers real solutions to their problems. When marketers adopt a stance of empathy, their approach turns from “how can I convince everyone that I have a better product or service when I really don’t.” (which doesn’t work anymore – again, read Purple Cow) to “how can I create a better world by identifying, developing and informing people of solutions to their problems.”

So how do you feel?

Attention All Real Estate Agents…

stopsign.jpgStop, I repeat STOP putting me on your weekly or monthly newsletter when I haven’t asked you to. Just because I sat next to you at a networking event and gave you my card does not mean that we have a relationship. Do you even know that….

1. I am currently receiving more than twenty newsletters that are just like yours?

2. I’m not even in the market for buying or selling a house?

3. My brother is a real estate agent so there’s little chance that I would even use you in the first place.

When you send me unsolicited e-mail it is not an effective marketing campaign – in fact – it’s the opposite. It irritates me and I don’t trust you from the start. It’s one thing if I’ve requested to receive your newsletter, but it’s quite another for you to go to events simply to compile a list of names for spamming. (Yep – you’re spamming.)

Do you have the guts (and the quality info) to make your newsletter opt-in only?

The Power of Being Concise

alcohol-distiller.jpgSome people distill alcohol – copywriters distill words. It’s our job to weed through the muddy and unnecessary and craft a crystal clear message. More often than not, this means paring down (usually WAY down) the message into just a few words so people “get it.” And that’s where the magic happens.

Case in point. Last week I noshed at an event where most of the attendees were technology companies. When asked what I “do” I tested two different variations:

#1

Joe-Schmo: Hi, Andrea. What do you do?

Andrea: I’m a writer.

Joe: What do you write?

Andrea: Web content, brochures, ads – all of the words that would go on your marketing materials.

Joe: Oh, that’s nice.

#2

Joe: Hi, Andrea. What do you do?

Andrea: I translate “Geek” into plain English.

Joe: REALLY?! I need to hire you!!

See the difference? Now, one thing you may notice is that the words “writing”, “marketing” and “websites” are no where to be found in this simple tagline. But that’s okay because it accurately conveys the message so the light bulb goes off.

Looking to create your own tagline? Here are some questions you may ask yourself:

  • Who am I talking to? Can I modify my message to fit various niches? Ex: “I translate _____________ (corporate babble, legalese, financial nonsense, etc.) into plain English.”
  • What do I really do? Is there one verb that can convey that message? Note – overused verbs include: help, educate, teach, show, etc. Stretch your vocabulary and you’ll be rewarded.
  • What’s the biggest benefit I provide? Now is not the time to blab on about everything you do. Showcase your biggest benefit and get people wanting more.

Run Circles Around Your Competition: How to Build a Loyal Fan Base

running-shoe.jpgAt first glance, you might consider Pacer’s, a running store in Alexandria, VA to be about the same as, say, the Foot Locker in the mall. After all, they carry similar products, market to a similar audience, and have a similar pricing structure. But Pacer’s does something truly remarkable. They have fans. Evangelists. People like me who just can’t wait to tell the world how wonderful this store is. And that is brilliant marketing.

So how is Pacer’s different? Upon purchasing a pair of running shoes, here are some of my observations:

  1. A passionate (and therefore knowledgeable) staff. Every employee of Pacers is a runner – not a minimum wage high-school kid. Why is this important? Knowledge. When I asked questions (like should I stretch before or after a run) the staff responded quickly and with authority (both). These guys know what they’re talking about. And because they love it so much, they’re happy to chat with customers about ways to shave a minute off your mile or how to train for your next big race.
  2. Overwhelmingly exceeding expectations. When I purchase shoes, I expect friendly customer service, and someone to go to the back of the store to get the shoes for me to try on. But if you want to really impress me you’ll measure my feet, watch me walk, analyze the fact that I have high arches and roll slightly inward in my stride and then pull several pairs of shoes that I can “test drive” before making a purchase (seriously, these guys are awesome). This goes back to the whole knowledgeable employees thing. When I’m impressed, I want to tell all of my friends about my amazing experience so my friend can experience the same thing.
  3. Creating a community. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday is the Pacer’s fun run. 30 or so people will gather in front of the store, run several miles and then go out for a tasty beverage. There’s no charge, you simply show up. This event gets Pacer’s loyal fans interacting with the brand on a whole new level. (Plus, if you attend regularly there’s a discount which further solidifies the devotion to your brand).

It works because it’s genuine – it’s not a hackneyed “we offer outstanding customer service” slogan when really they don’t. That doesn’t work. Instead, Pacer’s has invested in their training, people and community which leads to lots of word of mouth. The funny thing is, Pacer’s does minimal advertising. Why would they need to? They’ve created a better retail experience and therefore people are talking – that’s their marketing. So how can you be outstanding? Are you and your people completely passionate about your product or service?

Related Links

Personal Attention = Great Word of Mouth by Andy Sernovitz

What Makes Good For Marketing? The Experience! by Jeff Kallay

The Art of Evangelism Web Conference by Guy Kawasaki (if you missed it, keep your eyes peeled to see if he does another one)

Ditch the Pitch

phone.jpgWhen I was 16 my dad gave me a gift. Our neighbor had just opened an insurance office down the street and my father got me a job as a telemarketer. Granted, I wanted a new car. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the thought of calling people during dinner to solicit auto insurance quotes. But as I look back, this part-time job shaped my entire career. It’s where I learned that if I wanted to be successful in sales, I needed to ditch the pitch.

My first day of work our neighbor sat me down at my desk, gave me a stack of cards filled with names, addresses & phone numbers, showed me how to dial 9 for an outside line and gave me a pink piece of paper with “the pitch.” My job was simple. Call people and get them to agree to getting an auto insurance quote.

The “pitch” proved to be worthless. This sorry excuse for a script was probably written by some sort of insurance monkey at the corporate office who didn’t know a lick about sales. Here were my first 30 calls:

Andrea: Hi, Mrs. So-and-so. My name is Andrea from Blah Blah Blah Insurance Company.

Mrs. So-and-So: <hang up expediently>

or

Andrea: Hi, Mr. Someone. My name is Andrea from Blah Blah Blah Insurance Company.

Mr. Someone: Don’t you have anything better to do with your time? <hang up>

Andrea: (mumbling under breath so her new boss doesn’t hear) Of course I do. I’m sixteen and could be out partying with my friends.

People don’t want to talk to insurance agents. I was seen as a big fat waste of time. So I decided to try things my own way.

I tried all sorts of things, like:

  • Talking in a (very fake, but I tried so hard) British accent

and

  • Being blunt by saying “Hi, I know I probably just interrupted your dinner and I’m sorry. I’m just doing my job. would you like an auto insurance quote?”

After all sorts of trials and errors, I stumbled upon a method that actually worked.

First a little back story; I grew up in Ashland, VA which is a town so small we actually had a town song that we would all get together and sing at the town talent show each spring (true story). Think “The Music Man” meets “Leave it to Beaver” and you’re close.

So being from a small town I noticed that I personally knew half the people on the list – or at least their children.

I changed my sales pitch to something like this:

Andrea: Hi, Ms. Smith. This is Andrea – I go to school with your daughter Amy.

Ms. Smith: Hi, Andrea. How are you?

Andrea: I’m doing great. How about yourself?

Ms. Smith: Pretty well, thanks. Did you want to talk to Amy?

Andrea: Actually, I was calling to talk to you. See, I have a new job working at Blah Blah Blah Insurance Company. I’m not trying to sell anything. I’m just collecting information so we can send you a quote, followed up by a nice hand-written thank you card and then you can decide if you want to do anything with it.

Ms. Smith: (slightly taken aback) Oh. (usually a pause) How long will it take me to fill out?

Andrea: About 3 minutes.

Ms. Smith: Well, OK. Go ahead.

Yep, it was that simple. Eventually I outsold everyone in the office (and made darn good money).

So why did this method work when everything else failed?

  1. Establishing a personal connection. Once it’s established that you and your prospect have something in common – it takes your chances of closing to a whole new level.
  2. Removing the pressure. No one wants to be “sold.” When is the last time you went to a sketchy used car lot seeking the thrill of being pressured into something you don’t want to buy? Saying “you can decide what you do with it” signaled to my prospects that I respected their time and wasn’t going to pressure them into something they didn’t want.
  3. Cutting ties quickly. Occasionally I’d get the “No, thank you.” My reply was always, “Thanks for your time. Have a great day.” The way I saw it, it was much easier to dial more numbers than it was to convince someone that they really did want a quote. In the end, if a customer is sold because of pressure, the likelihood of them being a loyal customer is greatly diminished.
  4. Sincerely believing in my product. Most of the people who stuck it out to get a quote ended up saving money. I thought this was a good thing, so I felt like I was providing a great value. Later in life, I sold advertising in a low-quality and very expensive print publication. I knew the ads were a bad investment and learned quickly that you can’t “fake” belief in your product. And if you don’t believe in it – you can’t sell it.

The Amazing Technicolor Networking Jacket

andrea-and-her-technicolor-networking-jacket.jpgIn the ten years I’ve been in sales I’ve attended a lot of networking events where a lot of people stand around in black suits. Black suits are safe. Black suits blend in. Black suits don’t get noticed. There’s nothing wrong with wearing a black suit, just don’t expect anyone to remember you.

A few months ago I was browsing through one of my favorite department stores when the loudest, most brightly colored jacket caught my eye from across the room. It was so bold that several sat on the clearance rack for a whopping 75% off. It was almost as if you could hear the voices of the people who had picked it up prior saying, “there’s no way I could wear this – I’d stand out too much.”

Suddenly, I had a thought. If this jacket could stand out among racks of other brightly colored clothes, imagine what it would do in a room full of black suits. I found my size, tried it on and was pleasantly surprised at how well it fit. It seemed to perfectly embody the image of the “fun, young, hip, creative chick” look that I was going for. Bingo.

So it’s been three months and here’s the result. I’ve worn this jacket 4 times to networking events (considering I go to 3 -5 events per week, that’s not very often). Yet, I’ve had the following experiences:

  1. A friend of mine gave me a pair of earrings she had that “just seemed to match that jacket of yours perfectly.”
  2. A fellow networking professional remembered me as “the girl in the bright colored jacket I met last week.”
  3. A colleague confessed that she thought of me and my jacket when she purchased her shirt.

Proof that it’s working – this jacket helps me not only stand out in a crowd, but people remember me more afterwards because of this jacket. Association and recall are two goals of any branding effort.

So where is your technicolor jacket in a room full of black suits?

  • If everyone else uses words like “innovative”, “quality”, “turnkey”, “synergy”, and the other overused business phrases do you opt instead for a genuine and conversational tone to your writing?
  • When every other IT service firm is using blue corporate colors and pictures of politically correct people for their websites are you being bold with bright colors and custom illustrations?
  • If every other financial services professional is focused on pushing a product do you flat out say (and mean it!) “I do this because I’m passionate – not because of the money. I do this because my clients become friends for life. I want to grow with them and be involved in helping them grow. If you’re looking for someone to simply transact on your behalf, I might not be the fit for you.”

Keep in mind that markets change and shift. People catch on to a good thing. In time your once bright jacket begins to blend in. In which case, a black suit just may stand out against a room full of color.

Related Links

Be Remembered at Networking Events

16 Ways to Make Your Business Card Unforgettable

Scarcity Matters