Column by VerticalResponse CEO/Founder Janine Popick, Inc.com "
These 3 Questions Will Help You Close"
July 27, 2012
If you're marketing to a business, you know how hard it can be to close a new sale. It's like pulling teeth trying to get five minutes on the phone. And if you're lucky enough to get an in-person meeting, even better!
Why is it so tough?
It might be time constraints, since everyone is so busy. It could be budgets, because the person you're selling to probably has to be careful about how much he's spending, and on what.
But the most important thing you need to know about your prospects is this: What are they really looking to accomplish by talking to you?
Understanding the needs of your prospects is paramount to a cool close. After more than 20 years in the sales and marketing trenches, I've come up with three essential questions that any person who's in a position to sell something-which everyone at a company should be, no matter what their job title-should ask their prospects.
1. What does your business do?
Knowing what your prospects do and what their needs are lets you tailor your pitch. Restaurants are far more picky about budgets than software companies because their margins aren't as big. A prospect in education might have more seasonal needs. Government prospects might make you jump through hoops in order to close the sale. Don't have a one-trick pony pitch for anyone and everyone. Tell the story that's going to work for each individual prospect.
2. Are you using a product or service like ours now? What do you like and not like about it?
This gives you an insight to if this prospect even knows what it is you sell. If they haven't purchased a product like yours before and don't really know what you do and why they need you, they may need more of a sales pitch on your industry rather than what your company does specifically. Then get into what problems your business can solve for them.
3. When would you be looking to make a change or buy this product?
This tells you what their motivation might be. It might be that their boss is telling them to look into this more. It might be that they'll lose budget if they don't spend it now. Or it might be that they're tired of not having a solution to the problem and yours saves them time, effort and money.
Getting clarity on your prospect's situation with just a few easy questions will get you on the road to ABC: Always Be Closing!Category: Articles & Reports
Column by VerticalResponse CEO/Founder Janine Popick, Inc.com "Entice Mobile Users to Open Your Emails: 3 Tips"July 9, 2012Here's a little-known secret to get more people to open your email marketing campaigns.
If you're using email marketing to keep in touch with customers and prospects, you probably spend a lot of time coming up with that perfect subject line to get as many people as possible to open your emails.
You probably also spend a lot of time trying to whittle the subject line down to around 50 characters, which is typically all that can fit in an email client's window before it gets cut off. I know, I know, there's so much you want to say!
Here's a little secret: You can say more in the pre-header of your email.
If you don't know what a pre-header is, you're not alone. At my company, VerticalResponse, we get this question a lot since email marketing is what we do. The pre-header area is nothing more than what you include in the very top of your email. Here's an example, using a recent VR Buzz marketing newsletter. The subject line is about 10 awesome events, but the pre-header tells the reader that the email also contains eight tips for creating a top-notch blog:
The pre-header has become increasingly important because of the growing number of people who are looking at their emails on their mobile devices. Many people have their mobile settings set so they can at least browse the first few lines of an email without actually clicking to open it. That's a huge opportunity for you to include something at the top of your email that gets your readers' attention and entices them to open it. Check out the same VR Buzz email on an iPhone:
Here are three pre-header ideas I can think of off the top of my head:
1. Phone number
If your subject line had a killer offer and your pre-header said, "Call us at 800-555-1212 to get this offer," all your readers would have to do is click the phone number on their phone to call. Pretty cool, huh? I am on the email list of one of my favorite restaurants whose menu changes every day, and they fit their main course plus the reservation phone number in the pre-header of the email.
2. Newsletter article
If you've got an email newsletter and you include what you think is the catchiest article headline in the subject line, why not include the second catchiest one in the pre-header? If the first one didn't get subscribers to open your email, maybe the second one will!
3. Mobile site
If you've got a mobile version of a landing page that you want to send mobile users to, include the mobile link in the pre-header and the normal link in the rest of your email. You may find an increase in your overall conversions once people get to that page.
Using a pre-header in your email marketing is a no-brainer, in my opinion, and super-easy to include in your next campaign. Are you using pre-headers? How are they working to increase your response rates?Category: Articles & Reports
Column by VerticalResponse CEO/Founder Janine Popick, Inc.com "Don't Let Meetings Suck Your Time"
July 20, 2012
I was recently out to lunch with a few colleagues who work at a very cool company. The CEO of their company had left, and the second in command had taken over. They like her, but they said the number of meetings they're required to go to now has doubled.
They were describing my hell.
Now, I don't think that meetings are completely useless. But I do think that most companies have useless meetings, including my own. And the people at my company, VerticalResponse, will tell you that they know how I feel.
Why do I hate meetings? Let me count the ways.
1. Meetings allow people to delay decisions.In a meeting, Jonathan says to the sales guy, "Jason, let's take that offline and have a meeting about it next Tuesday, cool?" What he really meant to say was, "Jason, let's take that offline and have a meeting about it next Tuesday, because it's too much for me to think about it now and make a decision. I'm a wussy, cool?" Jason just lost a full week of revenue.
2. Most people who are in meetings don't need to be there.You can tell, because these people jump on their computers during the meeting not to take notes but to instant message or catch up on email. Let me tell you how much time is wasted by these very people saying, "Can you repeat that?"
3. People call meetings because they're afraid to make a decision.They get their boss and their boss's boss into the meeting so that they can bring up an issue only to be told what to do because they're scared to have a brain. Hey, people, news flash: You've probably been hired to walk into your boss's office and make recommendations on what YOU think the business should do, so do that and stop wasting everyone's time.
4. Many people who call a meeting don't have a clear agenda or objective.Here's an idea: At the start of the meeting, say, "Here's what we're going to get out of this meeting," or, "By the end of this meeting, we'll dole out responsibilities so you know what you need to do."
5. People call 30-minute meetings for things that can be decided in five minutes.Three people can probably come together and give the go-ahead in seconds rather than book a room, meet, probably come up with a PowerPoint presentation (more time wasted) and come to a decision that someone else needs to decide. BOO. My motto? DO SOMETHING! Even if it's wrong, you went for it, and with any luck, you either hit a home run or learned what not to do in the future.
6. Most meetings cost too much.Two cool apps: Meeting Ticker and Effective Meetings. 'Nuff said.
Do I think there is a place for meetings? Absolutely! But the result of any meeting has to be to make your business better. Are your meetings doing that?Category: Articles & Reports
Column by VerticalResponse CEO/Founder Janine Popick, Inc.com "Acquisition or Partnership? How to Decide"
July 30, 2012
Instagram and Facebook. Microsoft and Yammer. Is an acquisition or partnership a possibility in your future?
If your company is growing, first things first: CONGRATS! It's a tough economy and you're lucky to be on the upswing, no matter how big or small it might be.
One way companies try to grow quickly is to either partner with another company or acquire it. If you're thinking about forming a partnership or acquiring another business, you're in for quite the ride. I've been on both sides in the past 11 years of running my marketing technology company. It was unnerving, stressful, expensive, time consuming, amazing and exhilarating...just to name a few emotions.
So I thought to myself, there's got to be something to make it a little easier to decide what path is best. Here are three questions you should ask yourself:
1. Is your goal to acquire more customers, to own intellectual property I might not have, or both?
Partnerships come out of the need to grow a business. A marketing partnership might be as simple as a restaurant owner who advertises a neighboring wine bar in his email marketing campaigns, and the wine bar owner does the same for the restaurant. This could drive traffic into the local area where both businesses benefit from increased sales.
Another good example: a contact management software company that finds they get more business customers when they have email marketing companies integrated tightly into their software, so that their business customers can easily interact with their customers.
In both of these cases, either an acquisition or a partnership would be appropriate. In the former, the restaurant owner could benefit from the wine bar's customers. But taking it a step further, he could also get some major cost benefits from scaling when ordering food, wine and beer since he's already sourcing them for his current restaurant. He could also benefit from an administrative perspective, such as managing, menu planning and scheduling. In the latter example, the contact management company might hurt itself if it chose just one and could really benefit from the email marketing companies driving customers to use its software.
So you have to decide: Do you want to form a partnership to drive more customers cost-effectively, or do you need that business for more than just access to its customer base?
2. Is it core to what you do or where your business needs to go?
Here's a real-life example. My company, VerticalResponse, was known for our email marketing services, even though we've got pretty incredible online surveys and event marketing services, too. Why? Mostly because we just launched our event tool, and our online surveys have been around for just four of our 11 years in business. Recently, we started to talk to companies in the social media space, because many of our small business customers were using social media in their marketing.
We started having discussions with a company called Roost, a social media marketing technology platform for small businesses. At first, we approached the relationship as a partnership because we thought both companies could really benefit. As the conversations furthered, both sides realized that an acquisition of Roost could really give us, VerticalResponse, a competitive edge in our industry from a product, customer, people and valuation perspective. What could be a better acquisition candidate? It was clear to us that diving into social media wasn't really a "nice to have," it had turned into a requirement. So we welcomed the Roost team aboard, launched a very nice email-and-social integration and it's working – quite nicely, I might add.
If the company you're thinking of working with has a product or service that's a "nice to have" for your own business, you may want to start out with a partnership first, and prove it successful before you jump in.
3. Will it make you more valuable?
What makes a company valuable? Many years ago, a company was looking to acquire us because of our domain expertise in delivering email to inboxes. But we had so much more than that. We had tens of thousands of customers, pretty cool technology, great people and revenue that was climbing. They were only interested in the fact that we could send email. They wanted a "feature," not a company, and in the end it wouldn't have really added value to their bottom line.
So I walked away. Why? Because I wouldn't have gotten the value for everything we worked so hard for, and our investors wouldn't have been rewarded the way they deserved to be.
The lesson here? If you're thinking of an acquisition, make sure you want to acquire a company for all the right reasons, and that all of those reasons add value to what you've already got.
When I was faced with whether to partner or acquire, these three questions led to many conversations and pretty tough company-changing decisions, hopefully for the best. I'd love to hear any questions you think I'm leaving out!Category: Articles & Reports
Column by VerticalResponse CEO/Founder Janine Popick, Inc.com "4 Ways to Combat Digital ADD"
July 2, 2012
Everyone does it.
You start off with an email, maybe it's a newsletter. It takes you to an article to read and you read it. You get some good ideas and like what the author wrote, so you check her out.
She's on Twitter! You decide you should follow her.
You log into your Twitter account and see that someone you follow has posted a video you just have to watch on YouTube. You check out that video and then the "videos you might like" shows you a few more you just have to watch. So, you do.
All of a sudden a meeting alert pops up right in front of your browser.
You've just lost 45 minutes of your life you won't get back.
How do you regain focus and get the work done you needed to? Here are four ideas:
1. Close your email program.
My company, VerticalResponse, is an email marketing service provider, so I cringe when I say this. But sometimes you have to not be wed to your email. Block one hour off every day and close the window of your email client.
2. Turn off alerts (instant message, phone, etc.).
I wrote an Inc. article earlier this year about how much I dislike phones and IM disrupting meetings, but sometimes they just plain disrupt your day. If you don't want to be completely unreachable, turn off your IM or alerts during a different hour than when you close your email down. Then you won't hyperventilate at the thought of being totally disconnected.
3. Realize when "research" turns into surfing.
Sometimes I think the Internet was introduced to us by the pharma companies that hawk ADD drugs. One simple little Web page can rob hours of my life, but hey, here I go "liking" my friend's cat pictures on Facebook and watching the baby laughing video ... again!
My day usually starts off on Daily Beast for some quick news, then I head over to TechCrunch to read up on all of my favorite start-ups. I pop over to Inc.com where I'm sure to learn something that betters my business day. But does it end there? Never. Here's what I've been doing lately: I force myself get up from my desk to "break" the habit, and walk out of my office to talk to people. Works every time.
4. Limit the number of windows on your desktop.
My husband has no less than 20 tabs open in his browser at one time. I don't know how he does it. On top of it, with the ease of Apple's desktop dock you can have tons of files staring at you at any given time. Here's my solution: Every Friday, I take a moment to close down some windows I haven't used in a few days, get rid of files on the dock, and clean up my desktop. Monday will look like a different day!
Do you sometimes feel like you have digital ADD? What do you do to focus? I'd love to know.Category: Articles & Reports
Column by VerticalResponse CEO/Founder Janine Popick, Inc.com "4 Business Tools That Make Life Easier"
July 16, 2012
One awesome advantage about running a tech company in the San Francisco Bay Area is that I hear about--and get to try out--many of the apps and software that are just entering the market. If the tool makes me more efficient or has real potential to help a small or midsize business, I'm all ears.
But a lot of the buzz around technology these days is just hype, especially now that everyone wants to be the next Instagram or Pinterest. As a business owner, how do you know which company, app, or platform is worth your attention and will help your business grow? Most entrepreneurs I know just don't have the time to try every new tool du jour.
So, I thought it would be helpful for Inc. readers if I wrote a monthly roundup of online business tools that, in my humble opinion, live up to their promises. If they work for me, they just might work for you. (Added bonus: Most of them will be pretty darn affordable, if not free.)Here are four tools that I'm loving this month: TripIt
I love TripIt because you can easily access and manage all your travel details from one place. All you have to do is forward your airline, hotel, and rental-car itineraries to the application, and it'll generate one master itinerary for you that you can access on your phone and/or through your calendar. Cost: Free for basic versionPunchcard
What's a tried-and-true way to encourage loyalty and repeat customers? Rewards! If you have a brick-and-mortar retail location, this nifty mobile app lets your shoppers take a picture of your receipt with their phones and get loyalty points from you. It's just like those paper punch cards you used to get from the corner coffee shop or pet store--except now it's all virtual. Cost: Free for the appEventup
This website is like the VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) of event spaces, and a great resource if you need to find a venue to host an event. It has lots of pictures, a calendar of availability, and various search options so you can filter down by price range, number of guests, etc. The site covers New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. Cost: Free to bookUber Cab
Uber is a town-car service that operates in 13 locations (San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Boston and Seattle among them) and expanding fast. The app lets you see on a map when and where an Uber town car is in your neighborhood, and you can request a pickup with a tap on your smartphone. (You can also make a request with a text message.) Schwanky! Cost: Free for the app; you just pay for your ride
If any of these tools sounds as if it could save you time or money, give it a shot. In the meantime, I need to come up with a catchy title for this monthly roundup. If you have any ideas, let me know in the Comments section!Category: Articles & Reports
Column by VerticalResponse CEO/Founder Janine Popick, Inc.com "How to Do Social Media Right: 5 Tips"
October 5, 2012
I just finished the "Social Media: Do or Die" panel here at the Inc. 500|5000 conference. It was awesome. I've been looking forward to this because my marketing software company, VerticalResponse, has a social media product and we're always educating our small business customers about the importance of social media. I was hoping to get some fresh insights.
The panelists were a fun bunch and included Jen Rubio, head of social media at Warby Parker Eyewear; Aaron Aders, co-founder and market research director at SlingshotSEO and Dave Kerpen, co-founder and CEO of Likeable. The panel was moderated by Howard Greenstein, Inc.com columnist and marketing technology strategist and president at The Harbrooke Group.
Now, on to the good stuff. Here's what I think were the important points from the panel discussion:
And, just to show that social media does impact the bottom line, here's a story that one panelist shared: He had a bad experience waiting in a line at a major hotel and tweeted #fail. A neighboring hotel saw it and responded, "Sorry you're having a bad time, hope the rest of your stay is better." The next time, he stayed at this neighboring hotel; not only that, his friend asked if he'd recommend it for a family reunion because of the tweet he saw. Twitter works!
Finally, Dave Kerpen (one of the panelists) and his team at Likeable offered up a free ROI whitepaper that I thought was pretty informative. The great thing is you don't have to be here at the show to get it; download the "3 Easy Ways Retailers Can Measure ROI From Social Media Efforts" here.
All in all, a good panel; loved the stories about real-life successes!Articles & Reports
Column by VerticalResponse CEO/Founder Janine Popick, Inc.com "How to be Creative When You're Moving Fast" October 5, 2012Caterina Fake of Findery shares her ideas on how to be creative when you're a fast-growing, fast-moving company.
I'm pretty excited that I got to hear Caterina Fake at the Inc. 5000 conference. Why? She's noted as one of the most influential women in technology. Her previous ventures at Flickr and Hunch sold to Yahoo! in 2005 for a reported $35 million and eBay for a reported $80 million, respectively. She's no slouch.
Since there are such few women in technology, I was excited about listening to her ideas on how to be creative as a company and also to execute on these creative ideas.
I know this well. I'm going through this right now with my own marketing software company, VerticalResponse. I allude to what we're doing in a past Inc.com post, Why My Company Pivot Scares Me, and am trying to get as many great ideas as I can!
At my company, we have a ton of things we want to do for our customers and have to balance that with "there aren't enough hours in a day" to get things done.
So, the message I got from Caterina's session is that it's very important to carve out time for being creative. Coming up with creative ideas doesn't happen in one-hour blocks, so there needs to be larger blocks put aside for amazing thinking.
My team will probably tell you that I get a ton of thinking done when I'm on a plane or taking off for a vacation. They'll find me asking a lot of questions and communicating with them more frequently on a more strategic level than if I were at the office. (OK, I nitpick, too.) Much of my time at the office is spent talking to team members about issues at hand, and finding out how we're doing compared to plan. Big-picture, creative thinking tends to get pushed aside by these more immediate concerns.
Caterina spelled out some interesting ways to find more time in your day to be creative. These three were the ones that I thought were particularly cool:
Now it's time to execute! What do you think of these ideas?Articles & Reports
Column by VerticalResponse CEO/Founder Janine Popick, Inc.com "5 Easy Ways to Give Your Office a Makeover"
October 5, 2012
You don't need a two-story slide or roof deck to make your office a cool place that employees look forward to coming to. You can work with what you have; my marketing software company, VerticalResponse, certainly does. When you really think about it, it's not that hard to transform your office environment into something fun that your employees will enjoy and even participate in.
1. Open Space
When we moved into our new space about a year ago, we had the luxury of not cubing out a nice-sized area on our floor. As we grow we're going to have to construct more cubicles, but for now we thought it was important to have a common area that can also be used for our all-hands meetings. We went straight to Ikea and got a bunch of cool-looking table and chair sets so that people can eat their lunches there, or have meetings. We also got a bunch of easy-to-move comfy chairs and bean bags so that people can work in a more relaxed environment. It gives people the chance to get out of the cube and work in a different environment.
We have a bunch of people on our teams who don't want to be in their own cubicle, but want to work in a more collaborative environment. I was all for it. We took down some panels between their desks so they can be together and work together.
We got a shuffleboard and a full-sized table tennis set so that when our people want to blow off a little steam or take their minds off work for a few seconds, they can. Bonus: If we need to move the table tennis table, it's easy and the shuffleboard table doesn't take up much room. We also have a Nintendo Wii, but oddly enough people would rather play table tennis!
4. Access to Sports
We try to stream any important sporting event that might be happening. So if World Cup soccer, tennis or the Olympics are on, you can find it playing on a pretty large projected screen in the common area. People like to congregate for a few minutes of commentary.
When we have a big launch or an event, we try to decorate around the office. For instance, just recently we had an event and lunch based on a nautical theme so our office manager went nuts and decorated everywhere with nautical theme decorations and toys. Around the holidays, we have departmental contests where each team tries to out-decorate their spaces to win a cool prize! We've had a cube turned into a gingerbread house, a "working" fireplace complete with a mantel and stockings, and a winter white theme.
Most of these things are completely do-able even if your work environment is filled with cubicles. What are you doing to make your place a fun place to work? Love to hear it!Articles & Reports
Column by VerticalResponse CEO/Founder Janine Popick, Inc.com "'A GoPro Video Is Uploaded to YouTube Every Minute'"
October 4, 2012
Excitement abounds at the Inc. 500|5000 conference in Phoenix today! I'm thrilled to be blogging from the middle of the action.
I'm at the GoPro session along with about a thousand other businesses. I love GoPro because it seems like a great northern California company (as a San Francisco resident, I'm biased!), but these guys seem to be really, really fun, too.
Nick Woodman, GoPro's inventor and CEO, even came out on stage with a GoPro camera strapped to his chest, to self-document this experience he may not have again.
Here are a few new things I learned about Nick and GoPro:
Nick then went on to talk about what most benefited him personally and for the company. Here are my three takeaways from his amazing presentation:
1. Let your passion be your guide
Most of us have to figure out what is our real passion and what is our guide. Nick traced his passion for surfing to his GoPro success. He chose to attend school near a great surfing spot because he thought that if he was happy, he'd do better in school. Throughout his education, he found his passion in visual art and photography.
He started an advertising business (a dot com) that failed. He then saved up $30,000, but had no idea what he wanted to do. At 26, he decided to take a five-month surf trip around the world to find inspiration. Ironically his great idea happened before he left. He wanted to capture his surfing adventures with a camera from his wrist. As he was prepping for the expedition, he went to work on a tiny wrist camera for surfers and continued to develop the camera while he was on his trip. He was so excited about it, that he returned home early to go to work on what would become GoPro.
After he'd been growing GoPro for awhile, he focused on another passion: race car driving. He always wanted to attend race car driving school. At the time, GoPro was making $3 million and had 30 employees. The race car company wanted to charge a ton of money to put a camera on the car. Nick attached the wrist camera to his race car. It was his lightbulb moment: This camera can attach to anything!Lesson: Life takes turns to get you to where you need to focus--your passion. We don't always have to come up with brilliant ideas; sometimes, they come to us.
2. Surround yourself with people you love.
This seems obvious, but most people don't act on it. Working with people you truly like not only keeps you happy and motivated, it makes "work" feel less like work. Also, strong tribes can achieve anything, Nick says.
It was easy for Nick to hire people he liked because he was terrified to hire anyone he didn't. He sought out people he went to high school and college with and even family members. At one point, GoPro had just seven people and was generating $7 million per employee. They did the work of a team of 40! But it was OK, because they were having fun and people wanted to be a part of the GoPro brand.
Now at 300 employees, Nick says they still have that same culture. People love to go to work, over-deliver and be happy.Lesson: Hire for cultural fit over experience any day.
3. Take (big) calculated risks.
According to Nick, if you're going to spend that much time at work every day, what you do should be big. Even though he's still pretty young, he thinks of himself as an old man looking back on his life; every time, it gives him the courage to do what he needs to do.
Most companies are risk-averse. Entrepreneurs need to be taking more risks and get more comfortable with risks. GoPro was built on a $265,000 investment, and look at where it is today.Lesson: Don't let money be a barrier to growing a substantial business. You can get there through passion, people, dedication and execution.
Great session, Nick! I wonder what were some of the risks you took that failed?Did you enjoy this post? If so, sign up for the free VR Buzz weekly newsletter and check out the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog. Category: Articles & Reports
Column by VerticalResponse CEO/Founder Janine Popick, Inc.com "Have the Best Trade Show Schwag"
October 1, 2012
I've been going to Dreamforce, the annual cloud computing event put on by Salesforce, every year since 2004. Over the past few years, the convention has blown up into one of the biggest technology events in the B2B industry.
Dreamforce 2012--which was held a couple of weeks ago here in San Francisco--was the biggest one yet, with 90,000 registered attendees. It was great for my email marketing software company, VerticalResponse, because we were a Salesforce AppExchange partner and, as a sponsor, we had a slick booth on the expo floor. In the weeks leading up to the event, our trade show hero was insanely busy coordinating not just logistics but another very important part of trade shows: schwag.
Companies spend a lot of time and money on trade show schwag, especially at a big conference like Dreamforce. You're not only competing for attendees' (dwindling) attention, you're also competing with the other exhibitors.
Schwag, when done right, has lots of marketing benefits. Here are the three things you should ask yourself for your next trade show:
1. Is it useful?
At Dreamforce, one company was giving out branded silicone speakers that you can attach to your smartphone to amplify your music. My marketing team loved it!
Another company was giving out Skullcandy headphones, and there was a line at its booth the entire time. I also heard that shakelights (mini flashlights that don't require batteries, just a good hard shake) and luggage tags were "must haves." If I heard about them through the grapevine, I bet others were talking about them, too.
If what you're giving out is useful, people will get exposed to your brand over and over again every time they use it. There's a reason why there will never be a shortage of backpacks, bags and pens at any trade show.
2. Is it cool, fun or silly?
Several people at my company brought back fun items from Dreamforce that gave us a good laugh, like a stuffed monkey that made a screeching noise when you throw it (fun for five seconds), and plastic eyeglasses with blinky lights (apparently a lot of people were wearing them and posting pics to social media). Never underestimate the power of silliness.
If your schwag is fun and different and hasn't really been done before, people might tell their friends about it, wear it or snap a picture of it. Instant buzz!
3. Does it fulfill an immediate need?
Anyone who's ever been to a big trade show knows--it's rough. Your feet hurt, you're thirsty from making too much small talk, you're constantly pushed and shoved. Wouldn't it be nice if you were handed a chocolate chip cookie ... Or a margarita?
Giving out snacks or providing a place to sit might seem boring or obvious, but believe me, people will appreciate it. Chairs and charging stations were hard to come by on the expo floor at Dreamforce, so the few companies that offered them had tons of foot traffic.
As for VerticalResponse, we had a great idea for Dreamforce this year that we've never done before. We printed up 800 blue t-shirts with a cool cartoon character on the front, and gave them away for free to people we talked to at our booth. But that's not even the best part. Every hour on the hour, we gave away $50 in cold hard cash to the first person we spotted wearing one of our tees. Yup, one $50 bill to one lucky t-shirt wearer, every hour. We collected hundreds of leads and now we've got 800 VerticalResponse t-shirts roaming around the world.
What was the best schwag you've ever received at a trade show? Let me know in the comments!Articles & Reports
Column by VerticalResponse CEO/Founder Janine Popick, Inc.com "Make Your Employees Feel Like Winners"
September 28, 2012
Every year, my email marketing company, VerticalResponse, applies for awards in several categories: company growth, best customer service, best product, best executives...the list goes on.
Why do we do this? If we win, we get press, we have another piece of content to release for people to talk about, and it's great for employee morale because it just feels awesome to be a winner. Not to mention people want to work for winners, so our HR department is a big fan of all our hardware.
What's our approach? We make sure that, for the most part, we spread the recognition around to as many departments as we can. For instance, this past summer we launched a new social media platform called VerticalResponse Social, which lets small businesses publish and manage their social media posting more easily. It was a big deal for the company and for our customers. We were pretty darn proud of ourselves. So, earlier this month, we submitted an entry for the "new product" category in a well-known American business awards competition ... And got bronze!
We've also entered our Twitter feed and Facebook page for social media categories, our green and volunteer programs (which are headed up by our HR department) for corporate social responsibility awards, and our creative and marketing teams for best web design awards.
Once we win an award, we try to take it one step further by inviting the people at our company who contributed to these functions to the awards dinner, if we can.
We did this a couple of weeks ago for a new product and technology awards ceremony that was held close to our office in San Francisco. Everyone got dressed up. (It was great to see our engineers in a suit and tie!) I thought it was a huge hit and was personally stoked that they attended. They seemed pretty excited to be there (hopefully evidenced by this photo), and people at the office were all talking about the event the next day.
So if you have some people or projects that deserve an award, apply for one on their behalf. Recognize them and include them every step of the way. You might be surprised by how excited they might be and how proud they are to work for a company that cares!Articles & Reports
Column by VerticalResponse CEO/Founder Janine Popick, Inc.com "Why Your Customer Service Policy Stinks"
Sept. 24, 2012
I recently was on a flight on a well-known airline that shall not be named. I love flying with this particular airline because I can get online. Since I know I'll be on a plane for three to five hours, sometimes I save work so that I can do it while in the air.
Twice now, I haven't been able to get online with the wi-fi provider contracted by this airline. Other times, it's been so slow that it was impossible to do something as simple as loading a Web page.
The first time I had issues, I thankfully was able to get on a live chat to tell them I wanted a refund. The customer service rep gently told me they don't give refunds, just credit. I was not happy, but since I knew I'd be flying again, I lived with it.
This most recent time, I could only send and get email. So while on the flight, I got my receipt from the wi-fi provider, and replied that I wanted another credit. (For some reason, they didn't automatically apply the credit that I got from the last incident.) I was met with the following email:
Thank you for contacting (name withheld) Customer Care. We are very sorry to hear that you were unable to utilize our services on your last flight. Our service is not optimized for streaming/downloading any type of media like Pandora or Netflix.
We want everyone to have the ability to stay in touch, in flight. In order to preserve an equitable Internet experience for passengers on your flight, (name withheld) prioritizes different types of usage. Users consuming excessive bandwidth in a short period of time (example: downloading or uploading large files, streaming HD video, file sharing, multi-player gaming) may be temporarily given a lower bandwidth priority during some or all of their session.
The funny thing is, I couldn't get online even if I had a Netflix account. Secondly, if I was downloading things that don't throttle my ability to access Web pages, that should be the least action I should be able to take. Disappointments aside, I thought about how companies should really look at how they set customer service expectations, and how their policies stack up. Here are my three tips:
Unhappy customers are a fact of business life. But not anticipating how they got to be unhappy--and offering just a generic policy instead--could make even the most loyal customers (like me) look elsewhere.Articles & Reports
Column by VerticalResponse CEO/Founder Janine Popick, Inc.com "5 Reasons to Ditch Your Dress Code"
Sept. 21, 2012
When I got out of college, in 1989, I worked double duty: My primary job was for a local TV station called WCBS-TV during the day, and my second job was at Express, a hip retail company, in the evening. (New York City is expensive out of college, no?) Both places required that their people dress pretty sharp (even if we were never in front of clients), and Express even made us wear pantyhose if our legs were showing. Archaic? Today, maybe. But each business wanted its image to be "put together" and its people to be the same.
Fast-forward more than a few years to my email marketing company, VerticalResponse, and you'll often see myself and my team in jeans and T-shirts. Why? I think it's important that people are comfortable in their clothes each and every day. Even when we go to trade shows, we oftentimes wear pretty casual clothes. When I speak in front of large audiences, I'll dress up in a pair of dark jeans with a jacket. (How conservative!) In general, I want our customers to know that they're doing business with real and generally casual people.
But it's not the same for every company. Tech companies are different from law offices, which are different from car detailing shops, which are different from construction sites, and so on. You need to have the proper dress code for each.
I do believe that if more "cubicle"-type companies offered a more casual work environment, they might just attract more talent. Talented people are as diverse as the clothes they wear.
Some benefits that might be considered if a corporate dress code goes casual:
The worst dress-code experience I've had: a lovely engineer who showed up to work in a bathrobe and Birks. Not a good look if you have people coming into the office; your jeans, all of a sudden, look like a tuxedo!
Do you have any great (or horror) stories you can share?Articles & Reports
Column by VerticalResponse CEO/Founder Janine Popick, Inc.com "Is Your Business Name Web Friendly?"
Sept. 18, 2012
Eleven years ago when I launched my email marketing software company, VerticalResponse, I had no problems snapping up the domain name, www.verticalresponse.com. Those were the days!
Entrepreneurs today have it much harder. With more than 220 million domain names already registered, you'd be really lucky if the dot-com URL that matches your new business name is readily available. (Not to mention exact matches for your social media handles.)
So what should be the priority? Do you pick a company name based on whether there's an exact-match domain name available? Or do you get creative with the URL to fit the business name of your dreams? Here are my two cents.
If your business model revolves around the Web, or if you're planning to spend a lot of money on online marketing, then an exact-match domain name should be a top priority. Think Netflix, Yelp, Spotify or, yes, even Google. People are going to automatically default to your company name as your URL, and if that URL directs them to someone else's site, you're losing out on valuable business prospects. Plus, an exact-match domain name helps you get found by search engines, instead of someone else.
Also, if your customers are everyday consumers, an exact-match URL is more important than if you're in the business-to-business industry. Why? B2B companies tend to sell to niche categories; their pool of customers is smaller, which means less noise online. With B2C companies, consumers are less likely to spend the time to find you, which means more chances for your competition to attract their attention.
If the majority of your business is done offline, then there's more flexibility if an exact-match domain name is not available. Many bricks-and-mortar businesses, like restaurants, include their geographic location in their URLs. For example, think about companynameNY.com if you're in New York, or companynameSF.com if you're in San Francisco. This also will help increase your search engine visibility because many people search for retail outlets, eateries, hotels, etc. by location.
When it comes to domain name extensions, the holy grail is, of course, a dot-com. But if that's not available, a dot-net or even dot-co are okay options.
And finally, make sure to check whether matching social media handles are available. Ideally they should all be the same as your domain name. If something's already taken, a small change to your brand name or adding an industry- or location-specific modifier that's consistent across all your social media networks might be the way to go.
For example, if you are a print shop and your domain name is companyname.com but that's already been taken on Twitter, consider @companynameco or @companynamepress. (One more thing: When coming up with a Twitter handle, the max is 15 characters. The less characters the better, because you only have 140 characters per tweet.)
Choosing a name for your new business should be a strategic decision, not something purely based on creative inspiration. But once you've decided, embrace it, because it's going to be a part of everything you do!Articles & Reports
Column by VerticalResponse CEO/Founder Janine Popick, Inc.com "5 Ways to Get More Facebook Likes"
Sept. 14, 2012
If you don't already know by now, I'm a big believer that social media can help grow a business. But I often still get some pushback from people and customers who are hesitant to jump in.
Here are two of my favorite excuses.
"I'm afraid I'm going to overexpose my business to my customers. Won't that happen?"
Here's how I answer that:
My point? It's not overexposure. You have to be everywhere your customers are as much as you can!
"Getting people to 'like' me sounds pathetic."
In reality, it's not that much different from asking people to give you their email address or asking for their business card. And the more people that you've got exposed to your message where they want to see it, the better.
Why do you want more Facebook likes?
How do you get more Facebook likes? Here are a few ideas:
For more tips and ideas, download this free marketing guide, "Why Facebook Is Important for Small Business."Category: Articles & Reports
Column by VerticalResponse CEO/Founder Janine Popick, Inc.com "Make Sure Your Customers Stay Put"
Sept. 10, 2012
There's a restaurant I've been going to for 10 years. Over the course of time, management has come and gone as you would expect, and great people have left only to be replaced by new ones who were equally as great (and in some cases better). They've always welcomed locals and regulars through their doors with love and sometimes even through a back door when it's busy, since it happens to be located right next to a major league ballpark. They've gone as far as to give locals a discount since having us in the off season is important to them.
They've done everything right as far as customer service goes, in my opinion. We've always felt like family even though they're owned by a "corporation."
Then one day, the "corporation" decided to screw everything up. Here's what they've done and what I think they should've done. Are you guilty of any of these with your customers?
The story ends sadly: Too many of the locals now won't go back to this restaurant everyone once loved so much.
Whether you're in the restaurant business or not, it doesn't take much to alienate employees and customers. That said, it doesn't take much not to, either. Do you have any horror stories?Articles & Reports
Column by VerticalResponse CEO/Founder Janine Popick, Inc.com "3 Free Apps to Enhance Your Inner Creative Genius"
August 24, 2012
At my marketing platform company, VerticalResponse, I'm lucky to have an in-house creative department that designs all our marketing materials, ads, website, etc. I'm always impressed at how they can translate complicated technology and processes into content that's visual and easy to follow for a non-technical person (like the majority of our small business customers).I try to do the same in my work because: 1. It helps reinforce what I'm trying to communicate 2. It just makes things more interesting to the people on the receiving end 3. It often makes things easier to understand
Over the past few months, I've found some really great and easy-to-use design tools that give my stuff some creative flair. The best part? You don't need an art degree or any kind of design background.
Here are three of my at-the-moment faves. The cherry on top: They're all free!
This tool is very cool for online presentations; you'll look like a star! With Prezi, you can zoom in and around your presentation to emphasize certain text or images. It's similar to a camera that focuses in on and pans out around different areas of a whiteboard to tell a story. It's a visually impactful way of communicating to your audience, and definitely a cut above the standard PowerPoint deck. The one drawback: You need a fast Internet connection to run it. Cost: Free
Lucidchart is a tool that lets you visually display and share any process you need to document. It's great for creating diagrams, charts, mockups, site maps and more. I like it because it's very user intuitive; you just drag and drop shapes and lines. Plus, if you need to collaborate with someone else on another computer, you can both work on a chart at the same time because everything is saved in the cloud. No more sending files and multiple versions back and forth! Cost: Free
I like Scrollkit because it's just plain fun and puts a smile on my face every time I use it. They make it easy to create a cool Web page without any coding. Everything is moveable on the page and you can drag and drop graphics, images and text wherever you like. There's even a pencil tool if you feel like drawing something from scratch. Give it a try, but watch out; the fun could be addictive. Cost: Free
If you're looking for something to give your presentations, documents or Web pages a little oomph, give one of these tools a shot for your next project. You might be surprised at how well it's received!Articles & Reports
Column by VerticalResponse CEO/Founder Janine Popick, Inc.com "5 Reasons to Build an In-House Creative Team"
August 7, 2012
With the huge popularity of the TV show Mad Men, you might be thinking, maybe I need a creative agency to take my business to the next level. In many ways, it's tempting to take such a huge responsibility off your shoulders and hand it over to an external agency. After all, with an agency you get client managers, art directors, designers, producers, media buyers and myriad other specialists working on your business. They already do this for lots of other companies, so they've got the expertise and connections in place for the job.
But despite this, I chose to build an in-house creative team for my company, VerticalResponse. I started with one person in 2003, and now we have four full-timers in the creative department. (I should also note that my company has about 120 employees total.) Why did I decide to have an in-house creative team?
1. We move fast
As a technology company with a start-up culture, we just don't have time to mull over briefs or set up a big strategy meeting in order to create a microsite or landing page. We like action! If our lifecycle marketing team-which happens to sit right next to our creative team--needs a landing page, we can get it created and in the pipe tomorrow. Changes and edits happen in minutes, not days, with no outside middleman or project manager required.
2. We're lean
Everything we do is attached to revenue. Having an in-house team lets us prioritize creative projects on the fly and adjust based on weekly, even daily, performance. With an external agency, every new project or last-minute changes could mean more billable hours, which can impact our bottom line. I just don't have the time to be worrying about this.
3. We live on data
By staying in-house, we can keep tabs on all our website data. Our head of the creative department, Alf, works closely with various teams to slice and dice Google Analytics reports, find out what's working and what's not, and also test and refine the website to get more customer sign-ups. Having an inside resource like Alf within arm's reach has been vital.
4. We have lots of moving parts
At my company, we've got lots of different folks under one roof: engineering, product development, marketing, creative, customer support, sales, finance and more. And they're all working on different aspects of our business and products. Knowing that everyone understands how all the pieces fit together and can interact with each other directly on a day-to-day basis is really valuable. For example, our support team found out that a lot of customers were confused by our pricing structure and it was a pain point for them. The team brought it up directly to the creatives, who tweaked the way our pricing page was laid out on our website. Problem solved.
5. We think like our customers
Every employee at VerticalResponse is required to know how to use our products, even if they don't need to for their jobs. For our creatives, this means they know our strengths (and weaknesses) and what to focus on for the best customer experience. They also live and breathe our brand, so they "get" our personality from the very beginning; they're not juggling multiple clients in multiple industries.
I'm not saying that creative agencies aren't needed; it's just that for a fast-moving, fast-growing tech company like mine, an in-house team makes more business sense. And I should point out that we do use an agency for certain things like search engine optimization and display marketing, mainly because they have specialized tools and expertise that have proven to increase the ROI of those efforts.
I should also mention that if you're small or just starting out, you might not have the budget for a full-time hire. If that's the case, using a freelance designer or consultant for your creative needs might be the way to go until you're big enough.
Have you been in a situation where you had to decide whether to hire someone full-time or outsource to an agency? Which way did you go? Let me know in the comments!Did you enjoy this post? If so, sign up for the free VR Buzz weekly newsletter and check out the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog. Category: Articles & Reports
Column by VerticalResponse CEO/Founder Janine Popick, Inc.com "5 Tips for Creating a Winning Presentation" July 23, 2012From no projector to awful audio, it's not uncommon to be faced with unexpected "gotchas" when giving a presentation. Here's how to make your presentation gotcha proof.
Earlier this year, I had a presentation to do about the wonders of combining email marketing and social media to grow your business. I put together what I thought was a pretty nice deck with some great how-tos. My bullets were tight, I had awesome graphics to illustrate what I would be talking about, and I finished it up with some really nice key takeaways.
I go to the venue early to scope out the place. Here's what I found.
The acoustics were terrible. There was no carpeting and everything echoed like crazy. On top of it all, I would be presenting in the middle of the place, among people who were talking to sponsors and networking.
I would be speaking on a stage that was great with a lapel mic, which I like. But the screen for my slides was a 60-inch flat screen. Fine for a group of a few, but not for the 200 people that the room was set up for and that we were expecting.
Ugh. This is my nightmare.
I ran to a corner and started to redo my perfectly formatted slides, making a 40-page deck into 60 pages because I had to make the font size huge so everyone could see it! If you do view the presentation, you'll see that you should view it on the full screen, not the smaller Slideshare screen; another lesson to remember.
Here's what I learned from this crazy experience, so that you don't end up in a similar situation.
1. Big Font Size
If you're doing a how-to presentation, bulleted points are key. People like to take photos of the presentation or take copious notes, so having words they can see is critical, especially if you don't know the size of the room you'll be presenting in. Some rooms are just too long and if your audience in the back row can't see, they're not going to give you high marks in their exit surveys, not to mention that feeling of being ripped off.
2. Put Your Content Up High
Display all bullets and important information on the top two-thirds of the slide. Again, the room might be long and people might have to look over rows and rows of heads in front of them to see your important info.
3. Big Ass Photos
In my problem above, I took one of two images on a slide and just gave it its own slide. If you're literally illustrating a point, make it big!
4. Have Interstitial Slides
These are slides that start off a new section of your presentation. What it does is give you a pause and allows you to set up the next section or idea.
5. Make It Fun
People are listening to you to learn something, but it doesn't have to be boring. You can inject some pizzazz into your presentation with funny images or quotes, which also shows you've got personality! Check out Prezi, an online software that helps you create fun and cool presentations; but be prepared, because you need a fast Internet connection to run it.
There are so many "gotchas" when presenting, and knowing just a few of them could help you with unexpected situations you might come across! If you've got any more, share them in the comments section please; we'd love to hear them!Category: Articles & Reports