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.