January's normally the month where experts and gurus make big bold predictions about how the world's going to completely change in the next year (usually followed by the surprising revelation that their latest product just happens to show you how to deal with those huge changes they're predicting).
I‘m not one for bold predictions myself. But what I do know is that the fundamental marketing principles that worked in 2013 (and in 2012 and in 1912) will continue to work in 2014. People are still people and our basic motivations don't change much over time.
So here are some success principles that have always worked and will continue to work for you in 2014.
2010 was a great year for me. And it was one where thanks to a lot of factors but particularly my regular email newsletter and free Client Breakthrough course, I got to know an awful lot of solo professionals and small firms.
I met, spoke to and swapped emails with a huge number of extremely talented people with an incredibly diverse range of businesses.
And it reconfirmed my belief that there is just such a vast, untapped talent pool of professionals out there. People who are great at what they do, but who don't yet have the confidence, the knowledge or the skills to find and win all the clients they deserve.
Week in, week out I see clients playing it safe by hiring big firms with well known brands, when they could get access to much deeper capabilities and experience – if only they knew where to find it and how to recognise it.
It's my firm belief that if small firms and solo professionals could learn how to market themselves better. To get their expertise and experience known by their ideal clients. To get hired more often and at better rates. Then not only will it benefit the professionals themselves – but it'll make a huge difference to the success of their clients too.
If you're an independent consultant or coach, or a small firm of professionals, and you're the “best kept secret” in your field – then not only are you not reaching your own potential but you're doing a huge disservice to your potential clients too.
You could be out there doing brilliant work for them – but instead they're having to settle for second best because they don't know about you and what you can do.
It's not just in your own interests to learn to market your business effectively – in many ways it's your duty.
And in 2011, that's going to be my primary focus: evening the playing field. Helping the little guy compete against the big firms. It's going to be my mission to share the strategies and tactics that will help solo professionals and small firms break away from being the “best kept secret” and get the success they deserve.
Not that I have anything against large professional firms – I spent over a decade working for large consulting firms and it's where I learnt the basics of how to market and sell effectively. And if you work for a large firm I'm sure you'll find lots of the ideas I share to be helpful.
But my main focus is going to be on what works for the little guy. What will help small firms and independents get a real breakthough and start to compete and win against the big firms.
I'd like to invite you to join me on that journey.
I'll be sharing what's worked for me personally. Some of my successes as a sole practitioner competing head to head against big firms. And some of my failures too.
I'll be interviewing independents and small firms that have punched above their weight. Businesses who've successfully played David to the big firms' Goliath. I'll be sharing what's made them successful and how you can replicate their success.
I'll be particularly focusing on what I've labelled Authority Marketing. The strategies and tactics you can use to establish yourself as the “go to” person in your field – even if you don't start out as a well known big business.
So stay tuned for an exciting and busy year. And if you've not done so already, sign up for my free report on 5 Simple marketing Tweaks That Will Get You More Clients by filling in the form below this post.
I was honoured recently to find out I'd been nominated for the “Top Sales Blog of 2010” award.
And I do mean honoured. The awards are run by Jonathan Farrington who I have the utmost respect for. In the field of sales, Jonathan is one of the elder statesmen. A gentleman and a hugely knowledgeable authority.
And the nominations were based on an entirely objective formula – looking at the popularity and google ranking of the blogs (I think I came in at #6 globally).
But here's the thing: the final decision is made by internet voting.
*** UPDATE *** Jonathan's just told me that the vote only counts for 50% of the result. The rest comes from a panel of judges
We do all know that anything decided by internet voting is bullshit, don't we?
Who wins in an internet vote?
Either someone who's popular, or someone who knows how to game the system.
It's incredibly easy to fix internet voting. If you have lots of website visitors or social media followers – ask them to vote for you.
If you're smart and you think the PR will help, hire some folks in a third world country to vote for you. Or do it yourself through an IP proxy, if you've got too much time on your hands.
Currently I'm at #2 in the voting for Sales Blog of 2010. Is it because I have the best or second best sales blog?
No. It's because I'm popular. I have a lot of Twitter followers and I shamelessly asked them to vote for me here.
Anthony Iannorino is number one. I guess he did something similar. We're miles ahead of anyone else.
So here what I'm going to ask you to do. I'm going to break with years of tradition and buck all the “rules”.
What I'd like you to do is go to the site with the list of all the blogs here.
And I'd like you to actually read them all.
Rather than voting for me ‘cos you like me, I'd like you to actually read the blogs. They're all excellent. They're all full of great ideas and tips which could really help you.
Rather than treating this as an opportunity to vote for someone you like (that would be me) – I'd like you to treat this as an opportunity to explore the best of the best. Learn something valuable. Then vote for the one you think is the best – not the person you're the most friendly with.
Now, of course, here's the $50,000 question: who would I vote for? And who do I reccomend you vote for?
Well, personally, I'd vote for Charlie Green's blog.
You may know Charlie as the author of the Trusted Advisor and Trust Based Selling.
Here's the thing: all the rest of us write great stuff. Really valuable hints and tips. Articles that can radically improve your results at selling.
But Charlie writes the only blog that can change your life. He writes about trust and what it means to us, our clients, our families, our life.
Out of all of us, it's Charlie who's really making a difference – not just helping people get a bit better.
Out of all of us, it's Charlie who's driving for that deeper understanding and meaning.
Out of all of us, he's the one who's going to change the world for the better.
Vote for Charlie.
*** UPDATE *** Hey, judges – you vote for Charlie too.
Please Note I have had to remove a number of comments from this blog post. The comments were reports from readers about their experiences with Chris Cardell's products and services. Mr Cardell has threatened me with legal action if these were not removed (ironic on a post chastising him for trying to gag bloggers with legal action, I know). I have removed them until I can confirm the veracity of the claims against him.
There's an interesting little storm brewing over here in the UK.
There's a fairly well known business guru here called Chris Cardell. He does seminars for small business owners and has online membership clubs etc.. I can't comment on the quality of his work as I've never bought any of his stuff – however you can get a general idea of feedback by googling his name.
Earlier this year Cardell ran a direct mail campaign where the piece being mailed was made to look like a newspaper clipping with an article singing his praises with a post-it note attached in handwritten script saying “Ian, I saw this and thought of you. This guy is brilliant. Have a look at his website” and is signed “J”. The Advertising Standards Authority in the UK ruled the ad to be misleading and the claims in it unsubstantiated and told him not to repeat it.
He also came in for criticism that the “free gifts” he advertisised in the piece came with an expensive monthly subscription plan attached that many people found it difficult to unsubscribe from.
Recently he ran the piece again in slightly modified form (I got one myself and it fooled me for a minute or so).
I guess what he hadn't counted on was the uproar this approach would create in the social media world. Dozens and dozens of bloggers wrote posts on it. Some credited it with being clever – but most decried it as being deceptive and unethical.
The end impact was that if you google his name you get an awful lot of negative vibes. So much so that the first additional word suggested by google when you type in “Chris Cardell” is the word “scam”. That can't be good for business.
Update: He's tried to counter (or maybe even take advantage of) the scam association by running an adwords campaign targeting “Chris Cardell Scam”. he appears at the top of the paid listings, and directs people to a page where he calls traditional advertising a scam. So maybe he's hoping people will think that “Chris Cardell Scam” really means his views on advertising being a scam – rather than the original meaning of people thinking his direct mail was a scam.
So what's Cardell's answer been? Has it been to go back and review his campaign and whether he should be running it? Has he realised that in todays social media dominated world you just can't get away with some of the things you used to get away with?
He's hired a bunch of lawyers to send threatening Cease and Desist letters to bloggers to get them to take down their blog posts.
I'm not sure if they've sent similar letters to google to get them to remove the blog posts from their cache, or the Internet Archive to wipe them from the Wayback Machine!
Will his bully-boy tactics work?
Personally I think not. It's one of the great things to have come out of social media that you just can't get away with things or bury them under the carpet any more.
In even the recent past you could succeed with brilliant marketing and a mediocre product because it was relatively difficult for buyers (especially via mail order) to get any real feedback on what your product was really like. Nowadays you can. The truth is out there, and thanks to google it's a doddle to find it on blogs or via social media channels.
Now it may well be that I end up getting a Cease and Desist notice for this innoccuous blog post. But rather like the little Ants in Pixar's Bugs Life standing up to the big mean old grasshoppers – every time one of us gets knocked down, another will stand up to take their place, then another, then another. I believe that even big bad grasshoppery gurus and law firms can't take on so many of us blogger ants forever.
In fact, a number of posts just like mine have started appearing reporting on his attempts to legally gag bloggers. Here's one from popular IT commentary blog The Register.
I'll keep you updated if I get the big bad old letter…
What's your view? Is Cardell doing the right thing? Will it work – can he silence criticism from so many bloggers? Will it backfire? Drop you comments in the box below – I'd love to hear them.
My latest tips on building a Client Winning Profile for Linkedin are now on a free, short video – click here to watch it.
Sparked by reading a colleague's rather amusing recommendation on Linkedin, I've decided to start collecting “Linkedin Funnies”. If you spot something funny on Linkedin – either in a profile or recommendation or wherever – then please leave a comment on this post.
Here are the funnies I've found so far:
The first recommendation, to my mind, is a work of sarcastic genius:
Next is a rather nicer recommendation:
The third is perhaps not laugh-out-loud funny – but is quite well done:
So do you have any better examples of funny profiles or recommendations? Drop them on a comment or email and I'll get them up here.
OK – there's a huge risk here that I'm going to put quite a few noses out of joint – including a number of people I know personally.
But I'm going to give it a go anyway. The following is my personal list of the most influential writers, advisors and consultants to the professions – particularly when it comes to strategy, marketing and business development.
I've gone for a global list rather than people who have had an influence in specific countries or specific circumstances.
And please, please, please – if you expected your name to be on the list and it isn't – I can promise you, it'll be an oversight rather than a deliberate slur. My memory just isn't so good nowadays.
The list is in no particular order.
1. Well, I said the list was in no particular order, but who better to start with than David Maister. Since the publication of Managing the Professional Service Firm in 1993, he's been responsible for pioneering or popularising countless ideas and principles which we now take for granted. Now retired, his body of work (including First Amongst Equals, The Trusted Advisor, Practice What You Preach, True Professionalism and Strategy and the Fat Smoker) and the impact of his personal influence mark him out as the most influential contributor to the professions over the past two decades.
2. Ford Harding literally wrote the book on Rainmaking (as well as Cross Selling and Creating Rainmakers). Harding's work is characterised by deep, insightful thinking. You won't find simple “one size fits all” remedies in his books. What you will get is experience, research and critical thinking combined to allow professional firms to develop the unique strategies and approaches that will work for them.
3. After co-authoring The Trusted Advisor with David Maister and Rob Galford, Charlie Green has gone on to make the “trust niche” his own. He's broadened his scope by publishing Trust Based Selling, and has become the leading commentator on the importance of trust in business relationships.
4. Alan Weiss is perhaps best known as a prolific author and advisor to the independent consultant sector. But his contributions to the professions go way beyond that. He's published on management, recruitment, work-life balance – and he led the field in driving for value-based fees. He's often controversial – but always worth paying attention to.
5. Bruce Marcus was writing a blog way before any of us knew what a blog actually was. As the author of 15 books from Competing for Clients back in 1986 through to Client at the Core in 2005, and as a Marketing and Public Relations consultant to some of the leading accounting, law, consulting and financial firms, he's been at the forefront of both defining and implementing leading techniques in Professional Services Marketing. He was one of the early pioneers who highlighted the real differences between services marketing and product marketing and has continued to bring new insights and ideas to bear to this day.
6. Sadly the only female in the Guru12, Suzanne Lowe focuses on the gnarly issue of Marketing Integration: how to get marketing and sales, and professionals and staff aligned and working together on business development challenges – rather than taking refuge in their comfortable silos. While many of us focus on the perhaps more straightforward issues of helping individual professionals and practice areas improve the way they market and sell; Suzanne tackles the sort of problems of cross team and cross discipline integration that bedevil large firms.
7. Like Charlie Green, Andrew Sobel is an ex Gemini Consulting VP and expert (or Deep Generalist as he would put it) on Client Relationships. Sobel's work has focused on how professionals can build trusted advisory relationships with their clients. Latterly, he's explored how relationships can be deepened beyond individuals to allw teams and entire firms to build long-term partnerships with their clients.
8. Mike Schultz & John Doerr are perhaps the “New Kids on the Block”. As the authors of this year's best selling Professional Services Marketing, they're at the forefront of today's knowledge of “what works”: from social media, to the web, to good old fashioned seminars and networking. And as publishers of Raintoday.com, they bring the leading thinking from global experts right into the reach of practising professionals.
9. Robert Middleton was the first “online guru” of professional services. Focusing on independent professionals, Middleton pioneered information marketing approaches (email marketing, teleseminars, etc.) long before the current wave of “experts” jumped on the bandwagon. And his material remains the best and most versatile resource for the sole practitioner and small practice.
10. Another “New Kid on the Block” who's actually been around quite a while is Michael McLaughlin. Mike wrote Guerilla Marketing for Consultants, one of the most accessible sources which professionals can simply pick up and use. This year he turned his focus to selling with Winning the Professional Services Sale and set about converting professionals from pressing and pushing sales to helping clients buy in a way that works for them. It's a fun read too!
11. Richard Chaplin is a name that many won't have heard of. He's not a famous author or speaker. But over the last two decades as founder and chairman of the Managing Partner's Forum and the PM Forum (for Professional Services Marketing and Business Development) he's done as much as anyone to promote effective management and marketing in the professions. Richard's Linkedin connections list reads like a Who's Who of Professional Services. What Richard doesn't know about networking (and especially about Linkedin) probably isn't worth knowing.
12. The identity of the 12th Guru is up to you. Drop your nominations into the comments box for who you think should join the other 11 on the Guru12 list and I'll create a poll to select the final Guru. Or if you're too shy to comment, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PS Thanks to Mary Flaherty of the Raintoday Rainmaker Blog for inspiring this post with her recent excellent posts on the “Best of the Decade” in Professional Services Marketing & Sales.
Regular readers will know I'm a big fan of Linkedin as a business development tool for professionals (see 10 Linkedin Tips for Professionals for my guide to the best ways to use it).
I'll be doing quite a few more Linkedin posts in the upcoming weeks. Some of them will be further ideas on using Linkedin for business development. But some will be more news oriented.
The reason for that is I've been asked to blog about and comment on the upcoming Linkedin European Business Awards 2010.
As you may have seen in the press, Linkedin and Cisco WebEx are sponsoring these awards and are running a large poll over at www.linkedinbusinessawards.com to get votes for the Start Up, Leader, Business Innovation and Rising Star of the Year.
The judges for the Grand Prize are Pierre-Yves Gerbeau (of Millenium Dome rescue fame), Reid Hoffman (Executive Chairman of Linkedin) and James Campanini (Director of Cisco WebEx for EMEA and LATAM).
During the run-up to the awards, they'll be holding a variety of discussion events and polls. As a blogging partner for the event I'll be getting exclusive access to these and will also be able to pose questions to the judges. I'll be posting the results up here.
The first thing I've got a sneak preview of is a poll they've been running on leadership.
I don't claim to be a great expert on leadership, but I've run and analysed quite a few surveys in my time.
The basic question they asked was What do you think is the most important factor in Leadership?
The possible answers were:
Very surprisingly, despite the dominant stress on Vision, Drive and Character in the literature on Leadership, the overwhelming choice of the 608 respondents (so far) was Communication:
What do you think is the most important factor in Leadership? Overall Results
Does this really mean that communication is the most important factor in leadership?
Not really – after all, a poll is only telling you the opinion of people – it's not measuring which factor has the most impact in practice. But it does highlight something I believe is rather important.
In my experience, what polls like this actually measure is the most pressing related issue at the top of the minds of the participants right now. If you ask us what the most important factor in leadership is, or teamwork, or business development excellence; we never really give our objective, dispassionate view of the absolute importance of the factors. What we give is our view on what we are most missing out on right now.
In this case, the poll is highlighting that most participants see a problem with the level and quality of communication of their leaders (or they see it as their main challenge if they're a leader themselves). It's impossible for anyone to know for sure, objectively whether communication is more important than vision. But they answer with their gut feeling. And if currently they feel they're not being communicated well enough with, then that's what they'll answer.
The results were pretty consistent across gender, and also across the different sizes of companies respondents worked for. With the exception that communication was (understandably) viewed as even more of an important factor in very large enterprises.
Results across job role were similar too – with the interesting discrepancies that engineers don't seem to care about their leaders having character, IT people not seeming to care about them having a vision, and sales people not seeming to care if they had drive.
What do you think is the most important factor in Leadership? By Job Function
Perhaps the most interesting result was the variety in responses across age groups:
What do you think is the most important factor in Leadership? By Age Group
There's a big difference between the scores of the different age groups here (discounting the 55+ group which is obviously a very small sample size).
It seems that as young people enter the workforce, they have a fairly balanced view of what is needed from leadership. However, those in their mid 20s to mid 30s are focused much more than anything else on the importance of communication with leadership (or the lack of it). Then those from 35 upwards are less concerned with communication and again have a more balanced perspective on leadership issues.
The results could be read 2 different ways.
On the one hand, you could interpret this as meaning that the 35+ group are more senior and closer to their firm's leadership – and so are being communicated effectively with, whereas the younger cohort of up and coming staff aren't.
On the other hand you could view it as a demographic shift. Those of us of a slightly older generation don't expect so much communication and interaction with our leaders. But 20 somethings are used to being able to connect closely with their idols through the media or directly via twitter, and follow their exploits and outpourings on blogs, comment columns and gossip sheets. It could well be that this generation needs to be communicated with more, and in different ways.
I don't have the answers to this, of course. But it's interesting food for thought.
I'll be doing another Linkedin post shortly with a quick hint on using status updates. And I may well have some news about another interesting poll that's being run.
Disclosure: I'm not being paid or given anything to support this event. I'm a big user and fan of Linkedin, but I've never used WebEx at all so can't comment on it's effectiveness as a business tool (although I might give it a whirl sometime in the next few months)
Back in September 2009 I published an edition of my newsletter focused on Lead Nurturing: how you progress an initial client relationship over time to a point where you're actually doing business together.
Lead nurturing is critical for professionals: at the point at which we initially meet clients very few of them need our services right now. But almost all of them will need our type of service in the next few years. To be the one they remember and choose at that point, we need to nurture our relationships with those potential clients over time.
The article gives a number of hints and tips to enable you to do that relationship-building better, and with more clients.
The newsletter also includes a short article on the importance of doing and learning from “win reviews” rather than the traditional “loss reviews”.
You can read the articles in the archive by clicking here.
Back in August 2009 I published an edition of my newsletter focused on how to sell professional services in head-to-head competition with other providers.
Most advice and training on selling professional services focuses on how to get more clients by understanding and exploring their needs to develop solutions and proposals that “hit the spot”.
And that's as it should be. Not only does a needs-based approach allow you to develop better solutions for your client, it also allows you to build better relationships (by really understanding their business) and better persuade clients of the need to take action (by exploring the impact of their problems or challenges).
But there are other important elements to selling that professionals must master to increase their success rate in winning new business. In particular, they must learn how to sell when faced with direct competition. Or as one participant at a recent training course I ran on consultative selling put it: “how do I prove that I'm the best option?”
The newsletter also features a short article on using a focus strategy to get more referrals and features a website for accountants that holds many lessons for business development across the professions.
Let's face it: professionals hate selling. Consultants like me hate selling. Architects and surveyors hate selling. Accountants hate selling. And lawyers: lawyers really hate selling.
And we don't just hate the act of selling. Many of us hate the entire concept of selling. We feel it's beneath us. It's demeaning. We're experts in our field – we shouldn't need to sell.
Most professional firms can't even bring themselves to call it selling. It's business development or client relations. Not selling.
If you, or others in your firm ever get these feelings, then this article from my old Outside In Newsletter is for you: