Innovate Like a Lean Startup

iStock_000009200146XSmallEnterprise organizations are taking a rigorous look at the principles used in the Lean Startup movement. They are carefully considering how they can incorporate the approach for building and launching new products faster to increase revenues and reduce costs.

Why? Speed of innovation and time-to-market can translate to millions in revenue gained or millions in lost opportunity costs for organizations of every size. One known fact for product-based businesses is that the typical time for market development can no longer take years for planning to launch. Competitive forces require organizations to be in cycles of continuous improvement and a constant state of innovation.

Some businesses acquire other businesses to gain momentum, others set up lean approaches within their product development and design centers. If enterprises want to compete with the “young and restless” entrepreneur community, they need to consider moving faster in definition, development and bringing new products to market.

The father of the lean movement is Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. The Lean Startup methodology promotes shorter product development cycles driven by experimentation and validated learning. Instead of waiting until the final product is “complete” before launch, the lean practice recommends to use iterative releases to confirm adoption and use cases for a minimum viable product.

The constant develop-release cycle provides for ongoing feedback to modify and pivot to meet buyer and user needs faster. The goal for this technique is to speed products to market, maximizing early product adoption cycles and capturing the most market opportunity. This all translates to revenue.

The risks associated to this approach are primarily related to creating products that seem to never be finished. Consumers must have a strong loyalty to stay committed to products that are always upgrading. Businesses have to evaluate the risk-rewards of being first to market with products that are viable and utilize the information gained in the customer feedback process during each release to keep customers happy.

The growing consideration of going lean for many business owners today is whether they do so through an M&A strategy or reorganization of the product development operation.

“The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.” – Eric Ries

By Jamie Glass, President and CMO of Artful Thinkers@jglass8

This article appeared in the CKS Advisors CKS Updates May 2013 Newsletter. Visit www.cksadvisors.com for additional information.

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Investing in Co-Selling Partnerships to Grow

iStock_000022899520_ExtraSmallSmall businesses and entrepreneurs can greatly benefit by selecting co-selling partners to drive revenues. Utilizing another company’s sales and marketing resources may be a great channel to aggressively extend reach and acquire new customers.

Co-selling partnerships with businesses selling complimentary products and services to your target customer can be smart business. These partnerships can cut existing sales costs and even accelerate growth in market share. The best sales partners create a synergy between respective offerings. There should be a “natural fit” of how the products and services add value for the customer. The buyer should inherently understand why you would partner, not question as to why you did or if there is any benefit in buying from a single vendor.

Co-selling partnerships can reduce sales costs. There is a required investment in sales and marketing to grow a business. The costs of a sales team can be crippling for a new venture or small business.The overhead expenses that enable a sales person to be trained, productive, and armed with the right marketing tools, technology and product support can be onerous in the earlier stages of an organization.  Lack of initial investment often produces lack luster results and can actually cost the business even more with unexpected turnover or lengthy sales cycles. Businesses need a specific budget and defined cost of sales to properly staff, train and equip a sales organization to get results.

Time-to-market and time-to-close can be reduced through co-selling partnerships. A new sales hire ramp-up time can be 3-12 months, depending on price of goods to be sold and anticipated sales cycles. Ramp-up requires an “blind faith” investment of time and resources. A business has to invest in sales with nothing more than the anticipation and belief that something is going to be sold. It is a huge price to pay and has great risk. Utilizing a trained and experienced sales team through a co-selling partnership can help you bring revenues in while you invest in building your own sales team.

Co-selling is not free. There are costs of co-selling partnerships. A strong partnership requires investment in training and account management resources to keep top-of-mind awareness with your co-oped sales team. You also need to provide sales and marketing tools to properly equip the team to sell your goods and services. You need to be available when they have questions and to support them throughout the entire sales process.

You also need to create an incentive as to why a sales person in another organization should throw your offering into the mix. Higher commissions, faster time-to-close and value-add to the customer, are all good reasons; however, remember — sales people need to be sold too. If you extend the deal time or complicate the sales process, it will never work. Make it easy and valuable for the sales team through your co-selling partnership.

Incentives matter in co-selling. If the paired companies benefit but not the people selling, the partnership will fail. You need to set up a partner agreement for commissions and shared revenues.  A typical commission in a co-selling relationship starts at 10% of net revenue on the deal for a qualified lead pass. This type of agreement puts the burden back on you to close the deal. You are basically paying for marketing and an introduction. If the partner does all the work, including closing the deal, you may provide an incentive of 20% or more just to get that customer on your books. The structure of the agreement and commission rates should be based on your financial projections and cost of goods and associated expenses in managing the customer post-sale. 

What doesn’t work? Relying on commission-only sales teams and partnerships that are by name only. There are business owners that believe they can get a motivated, committed sales person to work for free. The odds of making this type of relationship work are close to nil. The relationship between a company and it’s sales team, whether a direct hire or partner, is measured by the commitment from both sides. Small businesses may have to tier commission levels based on the ramp-up of sales or find ways to create early non-cash incentives; however, no one should be expected to go out and sell without a financial commitment. The words “you get what you pay for” should ring loudly if you are thinking about commission-only or finding people to sell for you because they like you.  Sales people that are really good at closing deals are expensive because they have a huge ROI.

Attributes of great co-selling partners to consider are the size of the partner’s sales team, market reach, relationships with your customer and available support the sales team receives in training for new products. The partner must have the means, connections and existing relationships to introduce your products to market. Co-selling means they will take an active role in selling. Again, partners by name only often produce little value.

If you choose to use co-selling partnerships, embrace the model and build support for the partnership. Show your loyalty through your commitment to make the partnership last and benefit everyone including the customer, the sales person and the partners. Create value by talking about the partnership and promoting the relationship. The results you get from this co-selling will be directly tied to the amount of time and resources invested in the partnership. You have to give to make it work and really pay off.

In reality, the only way a relationship will last is if you see your relationship as a place that you go to give, and not a place that you go to take.” – Anthony Robbins

Jamie Glass, President and CMO at Artful Thinkers @jglass8

Related to a series of posts on partnering.  Also read: Sales Referral Partners Lead to New Customers

What is Your Business IQ?

Fresh ideas, concept wordsThe question is not related to your personal or business intelligence, it is your business Innovation Quotient (IQ).  Your business IQ is connected to how you manage change and performance improvements in all facets of your organization, from operations to product. The origins of the word innovate go as far back as the 16th century.  It is simply introducing something new or different.

There are some companies that are perceived to “own” innovation and are frequently on lists of the most innovative companies. Expected and recognized mainstream mega brand companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, Nike, Target, Coca-Cola recently topped Fast Company’s 2013 Most Innovative list, along with newer innovators like Pinterest, Sodastream, Tesla, and Yelp . They all have visible innovations and a high “product” IQ.  We come to expect they are doing something new and different all the time.  What we do not see is how these businesses innovative internally. How they get on these lists takes more than smart, cool products. We don’t know how often they change employee policies, management teams, adopt new software programs or retire practices that no longer get results – unless you are Melissa Mayer of Yahoo!

What is your business IQ?  How often are you “innovating” the 4 P’s: product, people, processes and policies?  If you were to rate how innovative your company is today, on a scale of one to 100, with 100 being the most innovative, where do you rank?  If you are never changing, you probably have a low business IQ.  If you are always changing, your business IQ should be close to 100.  The most realistic place to be, without completely disrupting or killing your business, is to aim for above 50.

If you are an innovative trailblazer with a high IQ, congratulations and press on!  It is difficult to stay on the forefront and constantly introduce “new” into a business. Trailblazers make change and as a result, often make money. They innovate, pivot and innovate again. Maverick companies with high business IQ are in a continuous cycle of innovation and change.

If your business is lacking in the innovation department, it may be time to set new company standards.  If you asked everyone on your executive team to provide you a recommendation of an old idea or way of doing something that needs to be retired, without measure of cost or risk to the business, what do you think would be on the list?  Perhaps it is time to find out.  Innovation begins by identification.  Where there is opportunity in your business to innovative, there is opportunity to improve.

Old or young, businesses need to always be monitoring their business IQ.  Innovation takes place within companies as well as in products and services.  Being an innovative company requires a constant and systematic evaluation of how the company will stay competitive and continue to grow or maintain sustainable profits.  The lack of innovation is a one-way ticket to performance doldrums.

Not all innovation is good and there are certainly small and big failures to note.  One point is certain, if your business is low on IQ, it is probably not maximizing the potential of products, people, processes or policies.  Start by asking the questions first, what needs to go? What is holding your business back?  Identify where you can improve your business IQ and then go — innovate!

If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” – Peter F. Drucker

Jamie Glass, President and CMO of Artful Thinkers @jglass8

Sales Referral Partners Lead to New Customers

Coins and plant, isolated on white backgroundUsing partnerships to grow your business is smart business. Partnering drives market awareness, aligns your brand with other credible brands, opens doors to new customers and can even provide value-added products and services to increase your average sale.

There are different types of partners, which are defined by the level of engagement and the agreements each party enters into to manage the relationship. Sales Referral Partners are the entry level of business development partnerships. This type of partnership has little accountability and responsibility for performance. The value of this strategy is often used to grow market credibility or to align with a partner that has strong relationships with your prospective customers.

Entering into a partnership for referrals is a first step to test the waters in a relationship. It allows both entities to measure the commitment, willingness and effort required in working together to develop business. A sales referral partnership gives you the ability to determine if this is simply a PR initiative or will actually grow revenues. You can also monitor the organizational support in sales and marketing required to get deals closed.

The relationship can be a one-way lead pass or a two-way referral agreement. Both parties need to determine the best opportunity to refer business by passing on leads, receiving referrals or both.

Sales Referral Partners can be “handshake” in nature if you do not plan to hold anyone accountable for the outcome. It is commonplace for business service professionals who network together to develop non-binding relationships to help open doors and extend value by making credible introductions to other service providers or their respective clients.

If you plan to use compensation as an incentive to drive referrals you need a legal agreement, signed and executed between both entities. Compensation is a way to show appreciation for the referral and is an incentive to work together. If your partner offers to pay you for referrals, you also want to make sure it is in writing.

There are two ways you can determine the referral compensation.  Referrals can be compensated at the same rate as your sales commission.  For example, you can offer a set figure between 5-10% of the net proceeds of any closed deal.  You can also set the commission rate at the percentage of your average marketing spend to acquire a new customer. No matter the rate chosen, it should be perceived by your partner as rewarding and drive the expected behavior. Make it worthwhile for someone to act as your front-line sales person and help find you new customers. If the rate is not worthy of the effort, you can expect to pay few or no commissions, as you will likely not drive the behaviors needed to get a referral.

If you do choose to enter into a binding agreement that includes compensation for referrals, you need to set rules just as you do for your own employees. Specifically outline in your agreement how payments will be made and when the partner will be paid. For example, will you pay when the sale is made or when you are paid by the new customer? Be sure you state in your referral agreements if the referral fee will be paid over the lifetime of the relationship or for only the first sale.

It is critical that you track all your sales referrals, whether you enter into a formal agreement or simply take an email of a lead pass from a trusted business partner in your network. Enter the lead into your CRM with the proper tag to identify who gave you the lead. Enter when you receive the lead and monitor the progress of the lead as it moves through your sales pipeline. Measure all your partners quarterly to see how they are helping you grow revenues. It will provide you intelligence in how to manage the relationship for maximum profitability.

If you do enter into a sales partnership where the other entity is representing you on the front-line, you need to equip your partner with the same tools and resources you provide to your own sales team. You need to give them the ability to introduce you, what you do, the problems you solve and the value proposition of your products and services. Spend time providing regular updates about your business and services to keep your partners informed and engaged.

Top of mind awareness in this type of partnership is essential to getting value from your relationship. When you provide value, you will get value in return.  A partnership requires efforts by the giver and the receiver. Be persistent in developing good partnerships, measure activities and reward the efforts of those that help grow your business.

“Try not to become a person of success, but rather to become a person of value.”
– Albert Einstein

Other types of partnerships that will be discussed in future posts include Co-Selling Partners, Channel Partners, Strategic Partners and Investment Partners.

Jamie Glass, Founder, President and CMO of Artful Thinkers

Take the Chill Out of Cold Calling

ImageCall reluctance is experienced by all business professionals, no matter their role.  Executives returning messages from upset customers, accounting personnel calling on past due notices and technology team members shopping for service providers.  Imagine if your entire day’s success was measured by the number of calls you made to convince strangers to buy your goods and services.

No. Not right now. No, thanks. Not interested. Maybe. Not in our budget. Hang up. Send me information. Yes.  That is the typical day of a sales person who is building their pipeline, repeated over and over again.  And we wonder why it is hard to find and retain great sales people. There are not many of us who would put at the top of our career ambitions to be rejected several times a day.

Cold calling is rarely listed as a favorite work activity; however, for millions it is what pays the bills. Selling is fundamental to our economy. There is no business until something is sold. Embracing the fact we all need to make cold calls, how can we take the chill out of one of the most important activities in business?  Here are a few tips to prepare for a day of cold calling:

1.  Know your target market. Every buyer is unique; however, they will have similar demographics, sociographics and psychographics. Spend time understanding the common data characteristics, along with behaviors and motivators.  For example, if you are targeting a small business owner, know what drives them to change.  What fears do they face in making buying decisions? What would benefit them the most personally and professionally when they say yes?  The more you know about them, the easier it will be for you to make a “warm call” into a known, targeted buyer.

2.  Feel the buyer’s pain. There is a natural tendency for inexperienced cold callers to talk about their reason for calling more than finding out why the buyer would benefit from their products or services.  Stop. Listen. If you are doing the most of the talking, you are losing.  You will never hear the buying signals when you are spewing facts, features, and generic benefits.  The best technique is to understand and relate to your buyer so they have confidence you are doing what is best for them, not you.

3.  Quantity matters. It is far easier to deal with rejection if you can get a “win” during your calling spree.  Plan with enough time in a single day to make calls in blocks of several hours. One, right after the other. Hang up, dial the next.  If you stagger your calls throughout the day or over longer periods, you are simply prolonging the pain. Dial until you get to yes and then dial more. Target how many yes calls you need in a day to hit your weekly and monthly goal.

4.  Needs analysis pays off.  Do your research on your buyer. You will be expected to speak to their individual business needs. There is no excuse to cold call blindly. “Google them”. It takes seconds now to find valuable data online about buyers.  You have access to profiles in LinkedIn, you have company websites with executive profiles, products and company information, public reports and news. Do your homework.

5.  Call with intent. What is your goal in cold calling?  What qualifies as a “yes”?  As with any business function, have a goal and objective with every call. The only way to get to the yes is to ask – ask for the sale. Get agreement along the way of your presentation and make sure you are aligned in your mutual objectives. You are solving a problem for the buyer. Countless deals are lost because people think making the call is the goal. That is not the win. The win is getting the deal.  Ask for their business.  It only counts when they say yes. When they say no, ask again.

A sales person has to remain calm in the chaos of measurable rejection. They have to keep their eye on the “prize”.  One more call to a yes.  One more opportunity to use their real skills and talents of negotiation and the power of persuasion to fulfill a need.

Respect and reward those that you depend on to make the calls to grow your business.  If you are the cold caller, prepare to win.  Know your target, be diligent in your process and never forget to ask.  It is the glimpse of hope, the possibility of acceptance and the incredible satisfaction of closing a deal that keeps a cold caller motivated. Commissions aside, most sales people will say they get the greatest reward from winning.  Winning when a customer says yes!

For every sale you miss because you’re too enthusiastic, you will miss a hundred because you’re not enthusiastic enough.” – Zig Ziglar

Jamie Glass, Founder, President and CMO of Artful Thinkers

Additional Sales Related Posts by Artful Thinkers

  1. http://www.artfulthinkers.com/prepare-to-hire-a-sales-person
  2. http://www.artfulthinkers.com/questions-sales-candidates-ask-that-should-stop-the-interview
  3. http://www.artfulthinkers.com/a-bad-sales-hire-can-crush-a-small-business
  4. http://www.artfulthinkers.com/5-essential-topics-for-a-winning-sales-proposal

Great find:  Additional tips and references for warming up cold calling can be found at fellow sales advisor Tom Costello’s blog post: http://www.igroupadvisors.com/wordpress/five-steps-that-will-take-the-chill-out-of-cold-calling/

Best Gift to Any Business is a Referral

iStock_000022240123_ExtraSmallAre you looking for the perfect gift to give your customers or clients this holiday season?  There is one gift that has far greater lasting value beyond a spoken word of thanks, a sparkly holiday card or overflowing basket of nuts and baked goods.  It is the ultimate gift — the gift of a referral.

When you tell a client or company that you believe in what they offer, so much so you are willing to tell others, you are bestowing a very special tribute. Beyond the confirmation, providing an unsolicited referral requires thought and work. It is a bit like the effort of making a homemade holiday gift versus buying all your gifts online. You have to think carefully about the need and fit between the referral and referee. You are attaching the value of your name as an endorsement to the product or service.  You will forever be the link between the buyer and seller. Your gift will often be appreciated more because of the effort you put into the “making” of the gift.

Another reason for giving a referral as your holiday gift this year is the financial value. Customer referrals are instrumental for business growth.  In fact, the value of a referral can even be more than a single purchase, especially if the client offerings are complex or dependent on developing long-term relationships with valuable prospects. Your gift can shave months off of the sales cycle.  A referral can reduce the cost of sales and customer acquisition costs. You could be gifting a customer and potentially a profitable customer with significant real lifetime customer value (LCV).

Your word matters and your actions speak louder than your words.  Everyone is grateful for a ringing testimonial.  It serves great purpose to have your endorsement out into the marketplace to attract buyers for your clients and show your support.  The actual gift of a referral is going beyond championing your like and approval.  It is an affirmation that you believe both sides of the transaction will benefit. You are providing a seal of approval for an engagement between the buyer and the seller.

Yes, we all want customer recommendations on LinkedIn, Yelp and on our Facebook and Google+ pages. It is good business practice to endorse your customers and clients when they buy your services.  This will encourage them to do the same for your business.  Word of mouth and online reviews are proven to work.  Market studies show buying decisions are impacted by referrals, as noted in HubSpot’s example of the impact of social media referrals: 71% More Likely to Purchase Based on Social Media Referrals [Infographic]. These endorsements are reviews of our work. They are critical to marketing today.

Knowing the value of a review and recommendation, the referral puts financial value to your words.  As you put together your shopping list this holiday season, think about the best gift for your customers.  A gift that only you can provide by making a meaningful connection.  A word of gratitude followed by an invitation to do well.  A contact that can lead to revenue. Give the ultimate gift to those that pay you. Give back by giving them a customer!

The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

By Jamie Glass, CMO & President of Artful Thinkers and Managing Director of Sales & Marketing Practice at CKS Advisors.

Be in Your Business Now

As a business leader, you have three options of where to put your focus. The Past. The Future. The Now. Being present in your business now, gives you better leverage to improve from your past with the valuable foresight to manage risks and opportunities in your future.

21st century businesses require real time accessibility and responsiveness to meet the changing tides of immediate customer demands.  Innovation is quickly driving businesses forward and leaving many behind. Being disciplined on the point of convergence of past and future, enables you to put 100% of your business efforts into the business now.

It is important to know who you are, where you are coming from and where you are going. The past provides insights that can help your business pivot and shorten learning curves.  As a leader, you depend on the knowledge gained through good and bad experiences to improve performance and business outcomes.  There is only one path to progress.  You have to move from the past to the future through your business now.

Living in your business past, with regret or admiration, does not give you the necessary focus to be centered in the now. “When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” ~Alexander Graham Bell

Leaders that spend time relishing in their great accomplishments may be ignoring the unknown threats or countless competitors looking for better, faster ways to knock you off your pedestal.  Put the plaque on the wall, file the kudos and at-a-boys and know that your business needs you to be working on what’s next – now.

Likewise, if you are spending your business now redefining vision statements, missions and the company’s next BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), you may be missing the bumps and obstacles that threaten you from achieving important milestones in your daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly journey.  Your revenues depend on you to zero in on the now.

One way to keep you in the now is to have a mission statement that puts you squarely in the present moment.  Starbucks puts its’ employee, partner and customer focus in their business now with their simple mission statement.  It says, “Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”

There is no arguing that you need business goals, strategies and plans.  The only way to work in the business now is to know where you are headed.  Every business needs short and long term goals.  There is a big difference in working in the future or working on the future — now.  You can be working on inventions that will change the world.  If you focus on how the world will be versus your invention, you will lose your edge in getting the invention to market.  A daydreamer trap for the creative mind.

Have you ever met an entrepreneur that has hundreds of ideas.  When you talk to them, they focus on all the ways they can improve on an idea, open new markets and make millions and billions — in the future.  They have 20 solutions for every problem.  Yet, there is always one thing that is missing in their enthusiasm for what’s ahead, their business now.

How is your business today?  What is holding you back this week?  What challenges are stopping you from being that billionaire NOW?  When you are steadfast on living in future, you are probably not paying attention to the work required to get you there.  If your employees always see you so far ahead of them, they often lack accountability to what they need to do to make the business a success today.

There is a fragile difference between a vision and an illusion.  Apple is a perfect example of a company dedicated to the business now.  We often look at each new product as ahead of it’s time.  Some will remark, how visionary!  Apple looks at their new products as another completed project. The next Apple inventions we will be enamored with are already in production.  Apple is constantly improving products ahead of their time by working in the business now.  They do so with an eye to the future, short term and long term goals; however, they produce and service in the now.  Innovation is part of their work culture.  We, their consumer, are focused on their future. That does not deter them from meeting our demands now, it only keeps us loyal.

Use your past to better predict your future.  It is good business intelligence.  Being present for your customers, employees, partners today is what has the greatest impact on revenues now.  Investing in your future, is working on your business now!  Don’t ignore what’s right in front of you.  What you uncover by working on the business now could define you and your company evermore.  

“Forever is composed of nows.” ~Emily Dickinson

By Jamie Glass, CMO & President of Artful Thinkers and Managing Director of Sales & Marketing Practice at CKS Advisors.

Entrepreneurial Spirit or Stress

High energy and optimism drive entrepreneurs to overcome the daily challenges of starting and running a business.  It is drawn from the spirit of achievement.  A belief in winning.  The achiever reflects on the vision supplanted in the back of their mind that reminds them they can do it.  Entrepreneurial spirit motivates. Unfortunately, entrepreneurial stress can be harmful.

Often times I see business owners who fight gallantly and passionately to get their businesses off the ground. Overcoming every obstacle with stamina and vigor.  Then the really hard work begins, as if the launch wasn’t difficult enough.  Selling. Operating. Scaling. Funding. HR, PR and avoiding the ER.

Days begin at 5AM and end around midnight. Sleep is sacrificed in place of getting more done.  Family and friends watch on the sidelines as the entrepreneur climbs to the top.  They are the cheerleaders, sounding boards and allies.  They see the competitiveness to win, so they encourage you more.  You’ve got spirit! You can do it, yes you can!

Our colleagues and advisors rarely say stop or slow down.  Why?  They don’t want to crush the dream.  They want to keep the spirit alive.  Businesses are built with emotions of positive thinking, ambition and heart thumping enthusiasm. They are also built with blood, sweat and tears.  We chant faster, better, more.  We ignore slower, take a breath, and reminders to enjoy the journey.  We convince ourselves we work better under pressure and stress.

As we are conditioned more than ever to reach for the stars, who is telling you to chill out?  It seems counter intuitive to being an entrepreneur.  Is it?  Can you get more accomplished when you are relaxed and well rested?  There are countless studies that prove stress is bad for your health.  It increases heart disease, inflammation, chances of having a stroke, weight gain, and even increases odds of catching a cold.  Relaxation studies show we can counterbalance many of the health risks.  Yet, out of fear of failing, the entrepreneur presses on and tries to do more.

I am reminded of a wise mentor who once said, do you want your epitaph to read “I Worked the Hardest”. Know anyone that has health issues from living stress-free or being well rested and relaxed?  Know anyone with health issues from living in the hyper stress mode, working 18 hour days, not sleeping, and sacrificing all “me” time?

Take this advice from a self-subscribed workaholic, it may be time to relax!  Here are a few ideas on how to get back to the spirit and reduce the entrepreneurial stress.

1.  Remind yourself of the WHY.  Why are you building a business?  Why are you working so hard? Why are you driving yourself and probably your family crazy?  Write down your why and review it daily. If it is for your retirement, for your security, for your family or for your employees, they will all tell you they would rather have a bit more of the relaxed you than a bit more stress.

2.  Turn off the electronics.  We are more wired and connected today.  Checking emails first thing in the morning can create stress before you even get started.  Smartphones, laptops, computers, TVs, off!  Set a schedule for when you will be connected and give yourself the freedom to be off the grid.

3.  Say hello!  Reach out to past colleagues and mentors.  Get together in real time, face to face.  Perhaps they are in the same predicament of being overloaded and overworked and are looking for someone to help give them a reprieve.

4.  Read any good books lately?  No one can argue that reading is good for the mind and soul.  Take 20 minutes a day to refresh your mind.  Give yourself time to escape, explore and grow.

5.  Prioritize.  Do you have a list of priorities?  Take your list and categorize the A list, all which have to be done by a committed deadline.  Next is your B list, those items that are important but are less urgent.  Finally, your C list that captures those tasks that would be nice when completed; however, do not endanger your well-being or put the business at risk.

6.  Escape.  If your business can not survive without you for a weekend, a week or even two, you do not have a sustainable business.  How would an investor perceive your business if it can not operate without you.  In other words, the business is you. Do not believe you are helping your customers, your investors or employees by being the one that makes it all run.  It is bad for business and bad for you.  No one can sustain the pressure of being the sole enterprise.  Delegate and escape.  Force the business to run without you.

If you get to the end of the road and the sign blazes with bright lights that you made it, congratulations.  You did it.  Now, look back and ask was it worth it? Did you enjoy the journey?  If you are still on that journey, stop and breathe.  Relish in the spirit of being an entrepreneur.  Enjoy the growth in your business and your personal experience. Don’t miss out on life to get to the end.

There is no recovery from lost time or relationships.  Make sure it is really the entrepreneurial spirit that is motivating you, not the stress controlling you. Live Long. Be Happy. And Prosper.

Capitalize on the Dog Days of Summer

iStockPhoto

Dog Days of Summer

There is a constant drum beat in business circles that summers are difficult for getting anything done. There are a variety of excuses that justify this belief, including, “everyone is on vacation“, “people don’t work when kids are out of school“, “buyers are not engaged“, and of course “decision makers are unreachable“.

The hard reality is these excuses are self-fulling prophecies.  We are more wired, more connected, more engaged today.  Business is not done during the hottest months of the year because we assume we will get a no before we ask for the yes.

The facts prove people are working all summer.  Monthly average work week data shows that we work the same amount in the summer as we do all year round.  Decision makers average 49 hours per week.  We are more productive than ever.  So, why are you not capitalizing on the hottest months of the year?

The Dog Days of Summer are the best time of the year to build up prospects, qualify leads, refresh your marketing strategies and compete for mind share.  While everyone else falls into the excuse trap, you have an opportunity to make noise and get noticed.

Laying back until September to heat it up your marketing and selling efforts only pushes you into the most distracting time of the year.  Right after Labor Day, decision makers are budgeting for 2013 and events are abundant.  Daily sales calls peak and we are all flooded with competitors emails and advertisements trying to capture top of mind awareness.  Simply, your odds are much better to get noticed during the summer months.

Here are some suggestions on how to capitalize on the final dog days of summer:

1.  Reach out to current customers.  Estimates are that it is 7x less expensive to get business from a current customer than a new customer.  Update your current customers on your latest business activities and see if they are ready to buy more.

2.  Prospect for opportunities.  Run reports from your contact database to see who has not been reached in the past six months.  Put them on your priority contact list and create a campaign to heat up some buying interest.  Activity creates action.

3.  Build sales plans for key accounts.  Spend time to craft detailed sales plans for your top prospects.  Identify decision makers, buying cycles, budgets and key influencers at your top target companies.  Read up on their latest news and research their business to identify critical needs.  Use your sales plan to carefully craft the value proposition for doing business with you and then set the appointment to make the pitch.

4.  Promote, promote, promote.  As others hold back until after Labor Day, you have the opportunity to use public relations and social media campaigns to gain attention.  Take advantage of the slower news cycles and go for the headline.  Do whatever you can to get the attention of those seeking your products and services.

5.  Summer close out sales. There is a very strategic reason why Christmas in July sales dominate the dog days of summers.  Retail outlets and online storefronts are looking to clear out inventories.  The other reason is June, July and August sales are the time people will typically start shopping for school and holidays.  Consumers expect a deal.

6.  Refresh your sales and marketing strategies.  Review your strategic plans. What has worked, what is not working and what market opportunities exist for the business in the next 18 months. Tactics follow strategy.  If you are only doing the work and not evaluating the impact on your strategy, you could be heading in the wrong direction.

7.  Pivot now.  Review your key performance indicators and adjust if you are are going to miss your mark.  Making a change now can benefit you in the last quarter of the year.  Don’t wait, start executing your changes and new strategies to achieve your business goals this year.

It is time to heat it up!  You have fewer people competing for attention and business right now.  Take advantage of it.  People receive fewer emails, fewer calls, so use this as an opportunity to make a direct connection today and set the wheels in motion to capitalize this year.

Jamie Glass, Outsourced CMO and President of Artful Thinkers, a strategic sales and marketing consulting company and Sales & Marketing Services Managing Director at CKS Advisors

Arizona Capital and Business Growth Resources

300X300Meet Arizona Capital and Business Growth Resources on June 11, 2013 at the MIT Enterprise Forum and Arizona Commerce Authority Innovation Arizona Summit.  Full details and registration available at www.mitefphoenix.org.

There are many organizations in Arizona that support innovators, startups, entrepreneurs and the established business community from early stage to exit.

This is an easy to use reference of various groups, associations and service providers in Arizona that help businesses with financing, strategy, venture development, M&A, growth and mentoring services and business networking.

Accelerators, Venture and Growth Advisors

Investment Bankers (FINRA Registered)

Angel Investor Groups

Venture Capital Sources and Funds

Collaborative and Shared Work Space – Map

Associations and Support

Pitch Contests & Competitions for Capital

Chambers of Commerce

Additional Resources:
 If you know of an organization that fits into the categories above, you can add the reference in a comment or email jamieglass8@gmail.com.

This list is maintained by Jamie Glass, President of Artful Thinkers.