How to set a marketing budget.

It's that time of year again. At this point, you should be finalizing your 2018 goals and give your written marketing plan a final review. But wait, "what about the budget"?

The dreaded "B" word sends chills down every business owner's spine - it can only mean that we'll be spending money...again. 

It's time to change the negative connotations brought by the mere mention of a budget. It's a cat-and-mouse game, right? An opportunity for the "little voice inside your head" to take over; "If I say $50,000 they'll spend all of it, so I'm just going to cut it in half."

Bad idea. What if $50K gets you closer to, or even beating your growth objective?

The fault lies with an improper construction of a marketing budget. I never believed in setting a percentage of sales as a budget - it is an arbitrary number that makes no sense. In most cases, it will cause owners to simply back off and pick an unreasonably low (arbitrary) budget. 

Here's how you overcome the tension and ultimately unrealistic selection of a marketing budget:

  1. You must have a written and very detailed marketing plan. 
  2. The execution part of the plan will include a list of marketing tools (platforms) to support the state goals and strategies. 
  3. Each item will have a corresponding budget. For example: 
    Trade Shows - $8,000
    Pre-Show Marketing: $2,500
    Social Media:
          Facebook Advertising: $6,000
          Google AdWords: $3,500
          LinkedIn Advertising:$1,500
    Website Update: $7,500
    Email Marketing: $3,000
    Direct Marketing: $3,300

Budgets are built from the ground up and only after a detailed marketing plan has been developed. If the final number is not approved, go back, prioritize the items and eliminate those costs where the R.O.I is questionable or has been historically low. 

TIP: For each marketing "expense" you must analyze your "customer acquisition cost" (for example, your FB ad dollars) vs. The Lifetime Value of a new customer. You'll also need your historical "conversion percentage"  - what is the percentage of leads that convert into new business. If you don't have those metrics, then proceed with caution by testing each platform until the data tells you what is working. 

A Wake Up Call to Small Business Owners: Deep Work vs. Busy Work

Spoiler alert: Multitasking does not work. The computer industry introduced this term to describe how a CPU can handle simultaneous processes. Then, a not-so-very-smart corporate bigwig decided that all new hires must be able to multitask (i.e., keep everyone busy, reduce payroll expenses) and so multitasking became the new buzzword and a source of pride for many humans on the planet; a perfect opportunity to discuss the homo sapiens brain.

Multitasking doesn't work because we (humans) are not wired for it. That's right, with over one trillion neural connections neatly tucked into a three-pound brain, multitasking is the equivalent of driving in Manhattan during a Presidential visit -- yep, mental gridlock. 

Attempting to circumvent our innate wiring and insisting that we can multitask is an illusion; just because you can talk on your cell, check your Facebook feed and respond to an email doesn't mean a thing, except that you're in auto pilot mode.

You're not doing meaningful work. You're not being productive and as such you're also directly affecting your Company's profit margins. More on this later.

As Cal Newport points out in his book about "Deep Work," brilliant human beings developed an incredible skill to get meaningful work done: "They all have the drive to cut themselves off, on a regular basis, from their busy lives and isolate themselves to think deeply. It allows them to use their brains to do influential and productive work." 

Single-tasking is not the answer because "brief checks" of email or social media interrupts deep thinking mode. This is also called, "attention residue" and it affects productivity. 

If your brain is how you make a living then you have to worry about your cognitive fitness; how much are you leaving on the table by multitasking or even distracted single-tasking. 

Atlantic Media did a study and calculated how many hours employees spent collectively on reading emails. They concluded that companies pay employees the equivalent of a Lear Jet to send and receive emails. 

Here's the thing: No one made a fortune by being really good at sending and receiving emails. As Cal Newport says in a must-listen Hidden Brain Podcast, "We built up a culture of convenience and simplicity at the cost of effectiveness and true productivity."

There is a direct correlation between productivity/efficiency and profits. Encouraging and facilitating a culture of multitasking is one of the most ignored opportunity-costs in every business. 

I recall one of many arguments with my boss on the subject of busy employees. 

"You should take a look at Stuart."

"Why?"

"I noticed that he's not busy, he was staring at the ceiling."

"Maybe he's thinking. He's working on a project for me."

"I don't pay him to think; he should be busy doing something."

Nor surprisingly, when the boss used to do his walkthrough around the office everyone was very busy and when he was on vacation? Forget about it. 

Meditation is rapidly becoming fashionable; it seems that everyone is meditating or thinking about it. And while meditation has proven to be beneficial, meditation is about disconnecting not doing deep work. 

Cal Newport can do deep work by not having any social media accounts. Imagine that. 

Multitasking is half-assing at best. The road to doing deep, meaningful and productive work begins with this realization: Time is a powerful force we only appreciate when we look back. 

The human brain doesn't know how to think about time; if you ask most people what's real, the present, the future or the past? Most people would say "the Present," but they are wrong. "The present is a psychological illusion; it is a wall between yesterday and today. All moments in time are either in the past or the future." Dan Gilbert, Psychologist. 

So, if you as a business owner, want to get the most productivity out of yourself and your employees, then create a culture that fosters and nurtures deep work. 

Instead of saying, "I have twenty employees" say instead, "I have twenty brilliant and productive thinkers who do amazing work that makes a difference in our lives and the lives of our customers."

The inspiration for this post came from my favorite NPR podcast, Hidden Brain and the episode titled, " The value of Deep Work in the age of distraction."

Cruising Altitude

You own a business. 

You pilot your plane.

There is no licensing exam to certify business ownership; you simply decide one day to climb into the cockpit. You might have an imaginary co-pilot but chances are you're all alone. And after a few pre-flight checks (website, social media, product in inventory, a few dollars in the bank) you take off. 

Your employees and customers are in the cabin; seats in their upright and locked position, trays stored, seat belts buckled and you're pretty sure no one is reading the safety instructions. 

Sit back, relax and enjoy the flight. 

You reach cruising altitude. Autopilot is switched on. 

How's business?

What do you think about, all alone in the cockpit - how much fuel is left? how long before you get there? when will you be able to afford a new, bigger plane?

Are you concerned about how your passengers will remember their experience? 

Do you disengage the autopilot when you hit turbulence? Will you take over? 

Who's in your control tower? Do they give you just facts or guide you? 

How often do you switch frequency or towers? 

There is a high probability that you'll land safely and that you'll do this again tomorrow. 

Uneventful routine is an artificial safety net.

Turn auto-mode off, go back and talk to your passengers, thank your flight attendants and practice emergency landings. If something goes wrong, and it will, you'll be ready. 

Safe Trip. 

 

The Marketing Trap: Frequency vs. Relevance

If you're doing any marketing you fall into one of two camps: The frequent marketer who abuses the power of opt-in, connect and follow or the relevant marketer who has taken the time to understand their audience and, in the words of Seth Godin, "will you be missed?" 

The keyboard button we press to send is labeled ENTER or RETURN, the resulting behaviors we hope for - an opt-in, a completed Call-To-Action form, maybe even a purchase. And our overly eager expectations, what I'd like to call the "Just Because Syndrome" frequently get us in trouble.

Just because we exchanged business cards, I liked you on FB, followed you on Twitter or filled a form, does not give you the right to flood my inbox with self-promoted junk. That's not marketing; it's simply annoying.

If you flood it, they won't come. They'll leave forever.

While marketers have an arsenal of outbound marketing tools at their disposal, prospects and customers only need one: Unsubscribe, opt-out or an email filter that sends everything trash.

I must admit that despite the fact that I am a marketing professional, I still fall for cleverly disguised traps; As an avid reader and educator, I am addicted to great content that fine tunes my knowledge and helps my clients. Last week I was hooked by an amazing piece of content and was happy to opt-in for future articles. What followed next was a nonstop assault on my inbox - a barrage of hard-sell offers that included "expires today at midnight" or "offer extended" nonsense.

Here's the thing: The old adage of "they are doing this because enough people must be buying" is so 19th-century sales tactics; no, sloppy marketers engage in this behavior because sending emails or posting social media junk is free.

Free has become a license to intrude, steal time and rob us of productivity.

Marketers (or if you're a client make sure you manage your agency) have an option; they can push me to say goodbye forever, or try this instead:

I opt-in to receive a free download. Follow up once by confirming that I received it (very cool); then ask if I enjoyed the reading and whether I would like to receive more of the same? I'm OK receiving a weekly promotion - I get it, you need to sell in order to stay in business and guess what? If you "earn the right" to ask me for support, I will gladly buy from you. Simple right?

See how easy that was? A world of opportunities opens up when marketers focus on the value they provide rather than how many touches they need to make a sale.

No, I get it, I really do - those email marketers told you that it takes upward of seven (7) touches before anyone reacts so you'll keep hammering away until you get one, right? Sorry, wrong; for a single 7-touches success story, there are many more recipients who got pissed off and opted out forever. 

Here's a great lesson that my mother drilled into me for many years: Always say please and thank you.

There is a huge, frequently missed distinction between marketing and sales. The role of marketing is to deliver qualified leads. The role of sales is to convert them into happy and returning customers.

The only way marketing can drive results is by establishing a genuine and transparent engagement with potential customers - an engagement signifies the start of a long term relationship and if you ever want to hear "Yes" when you ask, "will you marry me?" you have to nurture your relationship (marketing) not kill it. Relevance and "Permission Marketing" (Seth Godin) wil get you to the altar.

Don't ever assume that you're relevant; it is safer and polite to just ask. The way to establish relevance is by making content available, not pushing content down someone's throat. Take a look at HubSpot, a brilliant execution of sharing massive amounts of great content without being annoying. Yes, you have to complete a form to get to the 'download' button but that's it.

HubSpot has never pestered or chocked my inbox with useless or aggressive post-content sales tactics. What makes them even greater? While they would love for us to use their platform they frequently say, "if you don't have HubSpot here's something else you can use." Brilliant.

The result? I filter HubSpot emails and social posts with big red labels because I can't wait for their next piece of content.

You can never go wrong by adopting an abundance mentality as part of your marketing and corporate culture. We no longer have or keep secrets - we willingly share hoping for a meaningful connection with our subscribers or readers. Building a long-lasting friendship takes effort and time and you can't force it:

Being relevant and patient is the only way to drive marketing results.

Dispelling myths about sales failure. #1: It's not the salesperson

When it comes to sales failure stop blaming the salesperson. But wait, you say, there are a lot of non-performing sales people out there so how can you make that statement?

Here's a reality check: yes, there are a lot of people with sales titles but how many should have never been hired or put in that position? Way too many.

So, don't blame the salesperson ask whomever recruited her why she was hired? How many sales reps do you know who are in sales for the wrong reason? Here are some examples:

⇒"He's been with me for a long time so I promoted him to Sales Manager" ⇒"I need to make money fast so I'll get a job in sales" ⇒"I know this guy in sales and he is making a lot money. I'm going into sales"

Here's why sales managers, or hiring managers tasked with the challenge of finding sales people, fail so often: hiring practices are based on a terrible premise:  "if the rep does not work out, we'll just get rid of her".

Salespersons are not a commodity and anyone approaching this job function as "you either perform or you're out" should not be managing sales. Here are a few reasons why this type of neandertals culture is as close as you come to financial suicide:

  1.  Bad sales reps (i.e., those who should have never been hired for that position) cause more long term damage than anything else you can do to alienate customers.
  2. The cost of training a new rep can easily account for 10%-15% of their base pay when you include team members' time, materials, travel, mentoring and missed opportunities.
  3. Proper training of salespersons is obviously essential but what is often overlooked by sales managers, and those who oversee them, is even more important: the type and quality of support sales reps receive from the company.

The best sales people I have worked with were successful because they work in a supportive environment that provided tools and back office support that allowed them to focus on one thing and one thing only - sales. They, the real superstars of the sales world, didn't spend countless hours on useless debrief meetings, chase communication follow ups that were supposed to have been handled by someone else, and they didn't waste their time babysitting their manager who had to do the obligatory "get out there and see how she's doing" nonsense.

I think that there's another aspect to why salespeople fail. You may find it to be shocking: jealousy that is rooted in a misperception of what salespeople do for a living: "well, you get to travel, eat out all the time and make all this money - maybe I should go into sales?". That's it! The reason why sales people get tripped or don't get the support they need. I would agree that non performing reps do exactly that. But, I have to stand up and defend the good ones, the true professionals who get up at 4am to catch a flight (in coach), spend 12 hours on the road, grab dinner and work on follow up and preparation for the next day until they fall asleep on the bed. And, the next day and the next day.

Sales isn't a glamorous profession and if you think it is you've watched too many Wall Street type movies. It's a thankless job: when the company is doing well everyone thinks the sales guys just got lucky and when the company is doing poorly? Yes, it's all their fault.

The notion that the only way to measure a salesperson is by their performance is flawed. First, we must assess, objectively, whether the company is properly positioned in terms of marketing - do we have a clear, concise and convincing reason(s) why customers should do business with us? Is that reason (or message) consistent across all of our marketing platforms: web, social media, collateral, customer service?

Don't send a salesperson to fight a war with two hands tied behind her back. Sales reps can't, and shouldn't, sell bad products or worse bad companies. Give them a chance to succeed by positioning the company in a way that is sellable. And most importantly, get sales reps involved in marketing - no one knows better than them what's really going on out there.

Have the courage to informally sit down with your sales rep and genuinely ask a few questions:

  1. Do you like what you do?
  2. What can we do to help?
  3. What do you need from me in order to sell more?
  4. If you were me, what would you do differently?

And if you're reading this and saying to yourself "you are giving them way too much credit. They are lazy and just want the easy way out", then please excuse yourself and don't get involved in sales. Yes, you too Mr. CEO. With that kind of antiquated and negative attitude about the only people in the company that can fulfill your vision, you are destined to hire, fire and complain for years to come.

Don't blame the salesperson speak to the person who hired them and maybe that's where you need to make a change.

 

 

 

 

A tribute to my Mother

Savta+Me

I must admit, I don't need Mother's Day to remember my mother. She's etched in my memory and heart forever. But, a few days ago was the  anniversary of her passing, I thought it would be good to share her with the world. (Yes, this is Mom and me in the photo). My biological mother passed away two weeks after I was born from a rare infection. At the same time, a woman named Adela was visiting her two sisters in Israel from Sweden. She was at a party and the talk of the town was all about the widowed man and his two-week old baby boy. Adela felt an unexplained urge to meet this man and his son. She did the next day and told me years later, "it was my destiny to meet you."

Adela asked my dad if he would allow her to stay and care for me. They were complete strangers, but for some mysterious (and lucky) reason, he said yes. A year later they were married and Adela officially adopted me. I have the adoption papers and they have always symbolized to me what a mother's love and sacrifice is all about.

Imagine visiting a non-English speaking country on a tour, meeting a widowed man with an infant child, then deciding to take care of that child and never going back to the US? Literally, leaving your life behind and trading it for a strange country, new language and culture, suspicious family and whole lot more.

People often wonder why I have a strong connection with my kids and a burning desire to help people? When you have a childhood filled with love, devotion and the type of motherhood I experienced, you emulate your mother.

My parents never revealed the "truth" until years later. I didn't know how to react.  My immediate reaction was "but I have a mother". Throughout the years, my mother would drop hints like " I love you more than a real mother would" . I had no clue what she meant until years later. She was right. She had to prove herself under the watchful eyes of a family that wasn't accepting of the "stranger" that walked into their life.

My mother and my father were very different. My father came from a small village in Poland and was poor most of his life. My mother was worldly, loved classical music and was a people-person. Adela was a holocaust survivor;  she was a on a "gas-train" but was able to breath through a crack in the floor while everyone else was dying above her. Thrown into a mass grave, she escaped into the woods and managed to make her way to a major city, living in sewers and ultimately, reunited with her brother in Sweden.

My mother never revealed to any of us how old she was. She would drop occasional hints " If only you and your father knew how old I really am". Her passport had the wrong birth year. After the World Wars, survivors were allowed to "declare" their age. My babysitter, who later became the attorney general in Israel, was the only one who knew her real age. When my mother passed away, I found out. I was certainly a handful like many boys are; Mom was also not well from the horrific holocaust years. None of us knew the internal pain and turmoil she carried after that experience. Yet, she had unending energy reserves and was hiding whatever was ailing her, physically or emotionally. She passed away at 93.

For those who have lost their mothers at an early age it is apparent and painful. I always pride myself about being resilient, but when my mother passed away, I fell apart. I was devastated at the gaping hole in my life that no one could fill. We take so much for granted as we grow up and never imagine that it could end one day. Yes, my mother was right -  she was much more than just a biological mother.

We spend our young lives being cared for by our parents. Then we grow up and spend time telling them that they're old and don't get it. At some unexpected point we begin to realize how right they were all those years. Of course, for most of us, we become our parents and the cycle begins all over again with our own children.

While we're busy growing up, then raising our own families and caring for our parents we can't take them for-granted. When they leave us for good, regardless of the journey we had with them, it is a life-changing event. There is something to be said, and cherish, about having a mother and father. They never stop being a parent, and we never stop needing them.

I am not sure whether Adela came into my life because of divine intervention or "luck". My wife is a big believer in "things happen for a reason". Rather than argue the merits of either, I choose instead to remember my mother and realize how much I miss her. Happy Mother's Day.

The Comedian's Principle:

The Comedian's Principle:

Jerry Seinfeld said that he worked over a month in the first three minutes of his act. Every comedian knows that the first few minutes determine whether you will hold on to, or lose the audience.

How much time do you spend on your business?

While stand-up comedy is a do-or-die engagement, the stakes aren't this high when it comes to your company. Or are they?

Here's the thing; the comedian's principle isn't about making people laugh - that's what she is supposed to do. Brilliant comics excel at holding the audience's attention for the duration of their act - it is a monumental task (if you've ever tried stand-up) that can only be accomplished as a result of an exhaustive planning process.

You, my entrepreneurial friend, are in the same boat: You must hold the attention of your customers, attract new ones, keep your employees engaged and keep your business culture fresh for everyone to be willing to buy tickets for your next act.

Comedians bomb sometimes, we all have bad days. But the ones who are willing to spend two hundred dollars to see a live show, the ones we watch on reruns and the ones that are still standing after many years of performing, work diligently to refine their craft and never take anything for granted.

You're a few days from making dumb resolutions. Please don't.

Just sit down and plan your next act. Hold yourself accountable; customers and your employees are watching.

There is a good chance that your curtain will rise for a second-act, but how big will your audience be?

Blind Obedience.

"Buying Experience" is the most critical aspect of differentiating any business; it is the 'one thing' that allows you to hold on to existing customers and to attract new ones. And therefore, because so many of us increasingly buy online, the brick-and-mortar shopping experience has to exceed all expectations because we have an easy alternative at our fingertips. Yesterday, I was online at RiteAide and stood behind a lovely eighty-year-old sweet lady buying a six-pack of beer.

Cashier: "May I see your I.D.?"

Lady: "Oh, it's been a while since I've been asked that question, young lady."

Cashier: "I'm sorry, I have to do this for the cameras" (pointing to cameras above her head)

The elderly customer, having a great attitude about this, opens her purse and pulls out her license.

Cashier: "Oh, I don't have to read it, it's OK."

Here's the thing: If you train Robo-Service-Reps to just stand around and blindly follow directions because it is their "JOB" then you are creating the type of buying experience that says, "next time go to my competitor."

This idiotic Robo-culture robs employees of their ability to enjoy their work - nothing is fulfilling about scanning thousands of items as a cashier, absolutely nothing. Maybe some employees challenge themselves (I won't be surprised if they are being told to do that) with speed tests; what is the fastest checkout you've ever done? No, there is only one reason for a cashier's job to be fulfilling, and that is by interacting with customers and creating, even for ten seconds, a personalized shopping experience.

It's not hard you know. Starbucks has done that by announcing your first name when your order is ready. Verizon Wireless, repeats your name and then thank you for being a loyal customer. Zappos wants to make you happy even though you're just buying shoes. RiteAid, on the other hand, wants to ensure that no senior citizen can buy beer without proving how old they are.

Here's the scary part; so many marketers, blog writers, and webinar hosts speak about the 'customer experience' that we are getting dangerously close to beating this concept to death. Customer experience is one step away from joining the long list of Forbe's useless words like; core-competency, empower, synergy, move the needle, etc.

But in this case, we can not afford to give up on "customer experience" - this can't become jargon; it is the lifeblood and future of any business.

When you scan beer at the self-checkout lane in a supermarket, you are told to wait for help. For now, the barcode scanner can't tell your age. Minor annoyance but logical. A young lady asking an eighty-year-old for proof is idiotic, period.

Years ago I learned about a brilliant concept that allows us to determine the root cause of failure - you observe an unacceptable behavior and ask: "Is this an event or a condition?" You see, events are one-time occurrences (that can be excused or explained), while conditions indicate an underlying and serious problem.

Is proofing a senior shopper an event or a condition? It is highly unlikely that the young cashier decided on her own to ask for an ID. No, she was told, "everyone gets proofed regardless of age, and you better do your job because we have cameras."

This type of corporate culture that insists on blind obedience has no place in modern 21st-century business. If you're going to completely dismiss the value of human-delivered service, then install self-checkouts (which are never fast and consistently frustrating) lanes.

Seth Godin, in his brilliant TEDx talk, "Stop Stealing Dreams," explains that what is wrong with schools is that they teach students to be obedient and always hold back on their potential. Why? Because nothing is ever good enough and so the teacher (or our parents) are always going to tell us to try harder. And at work, obedience kills creativity, employee initiatives and the opportunity to make a difference especially doing mundane tasks.

There is nothing wrong with developing and implementing processes and systems that create efficiencies in a business. But dismissing the impact employees can make is counterproductive and utterly destructive. Every single customer service improvement has originated by an employee that cared. Tell them to stop thinking and fear the cameras and watch your business go into a death spiral. It may not happen in one day but each bad experience at your shop serves as a reminder that customers have choices and no one has to put up with an insulting or bad shopping experience ever again.

Before you tell your employees to just do their job, ask first if they like their job and what you can do to make it better.

Websites don't fix businesses

What do you do when growth stalls or when sales are down? We hear it way too often, “let’s get a new website.”

A website isn’t going to fix your business.

I like to refer to a Company's website as “your business DNA”; I can tell practically anything and everything about a business by simply studying their website.

Great websites reflect an intimate knowledge of customers, their wants, needs and the way they go about making decisions. It is also a culmination of a well-executed marketing plan.

Where do so many business owners go astray? By not realizing that websites, emails or social media postings are merely tools-of-the-marketing-trade and that there are no secret tricks or tips to get them to perform and convert.

Marketing magic only happens during the steps everyone wants to skip; the critical ‘thinking and planning stages’ of your marketing. Amazing things happen when humans sit down and brainstorm, challenge conventional wisdom and find ways to truly differentiate their business.

The day-to-day reality for so many entrepreneurs is very different:

“Hey, check our new website it is really great, people love it.”

“Great, how’s it working out”?

“What do you mean?”

“How is it performing? What types of results are you getting?”

"You mean other than people liking it?"

While there's nothing unique about having a website there's a lot to celebrate (as in 'ka-tching') when the site performs.

Why is a website a reflection of the business' DNA?

  • Because it's the engine that drives all customers/prospects interaction.
  • Because it accurately reflects whether you truly understand what customers in your business segment really want.
  • Because layout and navigation tell whether it's just a "www" address or whether you've taken the time to deliver value.
  • Because if your copyright statement is more than a year old (that @ at the bottom of the page) it indicates that you aren't paying attention to the most important aspect of your marketing communication.
  • Because buying a $49 Wordpress template and just throwing up on the screen isn't marketing.
  • Because if your Boss doesn't believe or want to spend any money on your website, it's likely that she's not spending wisely anywhere else.

Here's the thing:"Likes" don't cover overhead. Website visits don't pay bills. Self-promoting blogs won't get you into the SEO promised land.

A website that comes across as the 'self-admiration society' (and you can tell by counting how many times the word "we", "leading", "best" , "award-winning", are mentioned) only impresses those who wrote the content. We've moved way beyond regarding websites as a digital business card or an online catalog; your site is a hub, a community center that offers knowledge, value and an opportunity to experience something no one else offers.

Yes, developing a remarkable and engaging website is not easy. However, I bet one of your competitors has done the hard work and is growing month-over-month, year-over-year while others in their industry are complaining that marketing doesn't work. There is a correlation between sloppy websites and how well the business is doing.

There are plenty of beautifully designed websites out there and they all miss the point; when it comes to websites, we should not judge a book by its cover - we actually don't care. Content and an engaging experience are what matters most; a positive reaction to a website visit is a psychological reinforcement to repeat that behavior and repetition and frequency lead to conversions - that's how you get your site to pay the bills. 

Start by answering a simple but tough question: What business are we in? Get it right and you're on your way to having a productive website.