Janine Popick, CEO and co-founder of VerticalResponse Discusses:The 2010 New Year Checklist for Your Business

Every year here at VerticalResponse I make it a point to come up with a list of 10 things you need to be  thinking about in the new year. They may be related to marketing, or running your business overall, and they’re usually something I relate to things I have to do in my own business:

  1. Use “Cause Marketing” – This is the year that you should identify your business with a worthy cause and either donate a percentage of profits to it or contribute to it in some way. And if profits or hard cash don’t fit, consider donating employee time. Then in your email marketing campaigns, your marketing materials and sales pitches you should talk about what you’re doing and why it’s important to you. Your prospects and customers increasingly want to do business with a business that cares and has moral obligations, and they’re looking for you to let them know how you fit the bill.
  2. Use Social Media with Email Marketing – Finally get your act together with social media this year. Start with Twitter and Facebook, it’s easy. Then set your goals on how many Twitter followers your business will get or how many Facebook fans you’ll attract. Make sure you tell your email marketing recipients to follow you when you send out a campaign. And don’t forget to post your links to your email campaigns in your Twitter account and Facebook pages and ask people to join your email list. All of these marketing vehicles work really well together and feed off of each other.
  3. Nail Your Email Marketing – Your customers are your lifeblood in these economic times so make sure you put as much care as possible into how you communicate to them. One small yet important thing we all tend to overlook is the subject line, which is the most important part of your email. Whether you think about your subject line as the first order of business, or you write your email then come up with the subject line, take a moment and make sure it’s the right one. Here’s an idea the day before you send your campaign, take a small number of email recipients and split the list in two. Then send two different subject lines. If there is a clear winner, meaning one that has more clicks and opens, choose that one to roll out to your entire list the next day. If there isn’t a clear winner, then choose what your gut tells you to choose. Test a different format or a different day to send your email campaign. Squeezing an extra few opens, clicks and sales can make a huge difference for your business all throughout the year.Send regular surveys to your customers to find out how they rate your product, your company and customer service. Find out what you can be doing better, then tell your customers how you’re changing your ways in your next email newsletter because you’ve heard their message.
  4. Make This the Year of Customer Service – People talk about companies that listen to them and that treat them well so you’ll want to go above and beyond with customer service this year. This is especially true since companies like Facebook and Twitter are taking off and becoming a platform for people to tell the world how they feel…about you. This might be the year you get your customer data all in one place so it’s easy to find a customer when they call. Then log all of their issues so you have it for next time. Try BigContacts, Zoho, ACT!, and Salesforce for low-priced options. Provide Support has an option for one operator for less than $10/month for a year. Also manage your incoming and outgoing customer service emails. Palo Alto Software has a great product called Email Center Pro where you can manage your incoming and outgoing emails from one central web location and it’s free for 2 users. 
  5. Cut Costs – Keep cutting costs because we’re still in the economic weeds. Look at your top spending categories and see if there’s money to be saved. Is your rent too high? If you’ve got a number of years left on it you might call your landlord and ask if you can renegotiate “stepped” payments. Ask for a discount this year and tell them in the future years you’re willing to pay at bit more per square foot. If you’re spending too much on shipping, start calling other providers to see if they’re competitive. Doing things like this in January will add up for the rest of the year and help you to profitability.
  6. Listen to Your Customers – Listen and watch what your customers are saying about you. Sign up for Google Alerts with your company name as a keyword, but also with your competitor’s names so you can see what is being published about them as well. Sign up for a free TweetDeck account and do the same. You’ll see what people on Twitter are saying about your company, your competition and even your industry, up-to-the minute for an unlimited number of keywords. Then chime in to the conversation and address the issue or try to get a new customer. Word to the wise: make sure you’re transparent with who you are, you don’t want to “hide” as someone else, tell them you’re with your company and you want to help out or answer any questions. 
  7. Find New Customers, Inexpensively – Google is where people go these days to find businesses they’re looking for. So set up or build on your Google Adwords pay-per-click efforts. If you don’t know where to start with Google try Google Basics. Get started simple, choose keywords that make sense for your business and build on it from there. To find how many searches are happening on your keywords check out the Keyword Selector Tool to find out how many searches occur for your keywords. Note: although Google is the clear market leader, other search engines like Bing are gaining a bit of market share and can be less expensive. Word to the wise: take a deep breath and be patient, success doesn’t happen overnight but when you start to gain traction you’ll see that it does work and you can build on your success from there.
  8. Build Your Email List – I’ve put together this blog post called 29 Ways to Collect Email Addresses for Your Business. Live it, learn it, love it.
  9. Hire People Who Care – If you’re lucky enough to be hiring for your business, this should be the year where you have an ample choice of people who need to work to choose from, so it’s your pick. Make sure you select people who have the same passion as you do, and people that fit into your business culture like a glove. Make sure you ask the questions that count; you want someone who can handle situations, someone who can communicate and someone who you trust. Don’t settle for second best, your customers will notice.
  10. Embrace Word of Mouth – At VerticalResponse over 50% of the people who sign up for our service select “Word of Mouth” as the source for where they heard about our company. In 2010 you’ll really need to take a good look at what you’re doing to spur word of mouth. As noted here, customer service is important, the quality of your product or service is important and the entire customer experience is important in order for word of mouth to start. But there are other remarkable things you can do for your customers that can start them talking about you.There are some great ideas on the VerticalResponse Blog as well as Andy Sernovitz’s Word of Mouth Marketing Blog to get you started.2010 is poised to be a great year for growing your small business. Comment with your ideas for what you’ll do to get your growth on. 

Optimism Infects Naviga’s 2010 Economic Survey

Business executives are optimistic that 2010 will bring an increase in both revenues and hiring. That’s according to the annual Economic Survey by Naviga Recruiting & Executive Search, which found that more than half of participating executives were optimistic about the New Year.

The survey, which was conducted via email, represents responses from CEOs and/or sales and marketing executives from a cross-section of industries.  It revealed a brighter outlook that is a breath of fresh air after 2009 – an economically tumultuous year that forced many businesses to make difficult decisions just to survive.

More than 53% of survey respondents said their companies were forced to slash non-payroll expenses to improve profits, making it the most common remedy to the economic downturn. Others included cutting payroll expenses to improve profits (48.8%) and increasing marketing (27.9%) or sales (14%) budgets to stimulate growth. Just fewer than 5% said they had made targeted acquisitions to stimulate growth.

During the coming year, many expect to resume hiring, with the bulk of activity taking place in the second quarter (53.1%). The majority of respondents (41.9%) said they expect to only hire new employees in select functions or geographic areas while 18.6% expect to hire replacements for department employees. More than 9% said they were planning to hire across the entire business, while 7% intend to fill positions that were placed on hold in 2009.

In terms of where hiring would take place, the Midwest was identified as the region with the most new hires planned (28.1%), followed by national hires (25%). Rounding out geographic plans were the Southeast (21.9%), Northeast (18.8%), Southwest (12.5%) and West (6.3%).

Hiring plans may be a direct result of the expected revenue increases predicted by many respondents. Nearly 35% predicted a revenue increase of up to 20%, while 23.3% expect revenues to climb by more than 20%. Nearly 21% expected revenue s to stay the same, while 14% expected them to decline by up to 10%. Another 7% of respondents predicted revenues would drop by more than 20%.

Those latter results may explain why 16% indicated that they are currently in a hiring freeze and 7% are planning layoffs. When asked when they expect the hiring freeze to end, respondents were split between the 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2010 and 2011 or later (28% respectively).

“It’s tough for us to see hiring anywhere other than sales,” said one respondent. “We would really be looking at leadership roles.”

More than 74% agreed, saying that hiring would focus on sales positions. Other positions targeted for hiring included customer service (32.3%), IT (19.4%), operations (19.4%), leadership (19.4%) and marketing (16.1%). The majority (87.9%) indicated that new hires would be placed in leadership positions rather than individual contributor positions (18.2%).

My personal belief is that we aren’t completely out of the economic rut. However, there are signs that a turn-around may be on the horizon. For example, the 4th quarter was Naviga Recruiting & Executive Search’ best in 2009, and we continue to see positive indicators in our current workload.

And though I’m not yet comfortable with saying that trends are pointing toward a complete recovery, the increased optimism is certain to help boost employee morale. That carries its own positive impact on business.

What are your thoughts on 2010? I would love to hear what you believe the New Year will bring to your company.

Start your next sales presentation with a story not a joke

For those of us making persuasive presentations, there is nothing funny about the cliché that says you should start every presentation with a joke. Stories, both funny and serious, are the way to begin a persuasive presentation because they engage an audience and invite an empathetic response. Josh Gordon suggests that when you tell a story about the most embarrassing moment in your life, audience members either start thinking about a similar event in their lives or imagine being put into your story’s situation. But as you start a persuasive presentation your priorities should be different. You MUST get your audience INVOLVED right from the start. This is where stories are just more powerful.

Top Trends in Inside Sales

In this podcast, Josiane Feigon of Tele-Smart Communications and Leah Rust of EyesOnSales discuss Top Trends in Inside Sales.Are you “pumping up your pipeline” properly? Is “no budget” the new catch phrase with your prospects? These are just two of the ten trends that Josiane addresses in her Inside Sales 2.0 Trend Talk report.  Listen to the podcast for her thoughts and strategies on staying up to date with this evolving industry.

Commission Plans That Do What They Are Meant To: Drive Execution

Tibor Shanto reminds us that commissions are a very subjective thing, and for most sales people, a very personal thing, and rightfully so.  Sales is one of the last professions where your income is directly dependent on your abilities and the execution of those skills. In most cases, except in organizations where the sales force is unionized. (Talk about an oxymoron, have you ever seen two words that do not belong in the same sentence, union and sales.) The one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that the incentive plan should drive results. Of course, that assumes that you have the right plan in place.  After that, you get little agreement