Praising for Performance

By Kelley Robertson

Most managers have heard that providing positive reinforcement will improve team performance and motivation. During my career I’ve been surprised how few managers actually praise to their team members. Here are four steps that can help you provide effective praise to your team:

1. Praise the performance that deserves the praise.
All too often people praise someone on their team by saying something like, “Bob, you did a good job today.”
What exactly does this mean? How will the employee interpret it? What was the specific performance that deserved the recognition?
It is important that you are specific when providing positive reinforcement. For example, an employee has just dealt with a customer who was irate upon entering the store but left smiling and satisfied. You could say something like, “Excellent work, Mark. You did an excellent job calming down that customer.”

2. Communicate it clearly and sincerely.
A challenge that is faced by many managers is that they are uncomfortable proving praise to their team. The result? They aren’t clear when discussing positive performance with an individual. They ramble on too long or hide the praise in filler words such as “um” and “ah”. The employee then hears a message that is confusing and difficult to understand. This means that the positive reinforcement will not have as much impact as you intend. Learn to be direct when praising an individual or group of individuals. “Jill, I wanted to thank-you for coming in on your day off to cover for John.”
3. Acknowledge the commitment and effort.
When you praise an employee’s performance acknowledge their effort and commitment; that is, how hard they worked and how involved they were with it. For example, if an individual worked later because it was busy you could say, “Karen, thanks for sticking around tonight. I appreciate the extra effort you made to ensure that our customers were well taken care of.”
4. Ensure it is timely
When you praise an employee, ensure that it is timely. Praise the performance as soon as you are aware that it deserves recognition. If too much time elapses the individual may perceive the praise as an afterthought and it will have little, if any, positive impact. Managers frequently see an opportunity to provide positive reinforcement and, because they are busy at the moment, chose to tell the employee later. Unfortunately, what happens is that they get caught up in the day-to-day challenges and pressures of running a retail organization and they inadvertently forget to talk to the individual. The The consequence is an employee who performed well but didn’t receive recognition. This, in
turn, can cause their future performance to deteriorate or decline.
One of the challenges many managers face when it comes time to praise employees is that they are uncomfortable providing this recognition. If this describes you, try this approach:
On paper, write down what you want to say to your employee. It shouldn’t be any more than two or three lines. In other words, keep it brief. Once you have completed this practice verbally stating the praise. This will increase your comfort level and help you deliver the compliment more effectively. Then, provide the recognition to your team member.

Most management or leadership books will tell you to praise in public. My belief is that you should praise someone in an environment that will be most comfortable for the individual. Some people are very uncomfortable with public recognition and praise that is delivered in front of their peers can end up becoming a de-motivator. This means that you need to know your employees.

Recognition is something that every employee craves. If you are truly committed to improving your team’s performance invest a few minutes every day recognizing their efforts. When you notice great performance don’t wait to praise the employee, tell them immediately and follow these points:
1. Be specific
2. Be clear & concise
3. Acknowledge their effort
4. Make it timely

Copyright 2004 Kelley Robertson. All rights reserved

Kelley Robertson, President of the Robertson Training Group, works with businesses to help them increase their sales and motivate their employees. He is also the author of “Stop, Ask & Listen – Proven sales techniques to turn browsers into buyers.” Visit his website at www.RobertsonTrainingGroup.com and receive a FREE copy of “100 Ways to Increase Your Sales” by subscribing to his 59-Second Tip, a free weekly e-zine.

How 3 Companies took Content Marketing to the Next Level

by Shane Snow for Mashable

It goes by many names: branded content, custom publishing, content marketing. Cheap and ubiquitous web technology has become fuel for a rising trend of businesses becoming publishers and brands becoming media companies. Through content creation, brands can engage directly with an audience rather than relying on intermediary media channels. If you publish and spread great content, customers will come to you.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, an organization that provides research and education on content marketing, “93% of marketing professionals create, or plan to create content marketing as part of their overall programs in the next year.” Money is being slurped away from print advertising (44% of marketers have decreased their print ad budgets over the last three years) and put in large part toward social media and custom publishing (70% have increased their social media.publishing budgets over the last 3 years), according to CMI.

Blogging, tweeting and posting not only generate brand awareness and buzz, they also build links, which are like gold to Google’s ranking algorithm. In short, content marketing is the new SEO.

How should your business or brand think about its content marketing strategy? Take some tips from the following companies.

1. Mint.com

mint image

When personal finance startup Mint launched in 2006, it was quickly thrown into competition with web startups like Wesabe, and established juggernauts like Quicken. Three years later, the company is a market leader in online personal finance and sold to Intuit for $170 million.

Mint owes much of its user adoption and brand success to its aggressively intelligent content strategy. Unlike the half-hearted, months-between-updates blogs that most businesses keep, Mint’s blog “MintLife” was a core part of the company’s operation.

Mint dedicated significant resources to its blog, including a full time editorial staff and a slew of freelance contributors. It invested time in social news sites like Reddit and Digg, and after months of seeing consistent, quality Mint content, readers in those communities began trusting Mint as high quality, reliable, and cool to share. Eventually, those users turned into Mint customers, even advocating Mint in their personal networks.

News and tips posts, link roundups, slideshows, videos, and infographics were all key components in Mint’s content strategy, and they were held to a strict editorial standard. By establishing itself as a smart resource that was easy and accessible to the financially curious, Mint was able to leverage its content credibility to convert readers into buyers of its actual product.

Mint is consistently lauded as a pioneer in successful blog content marketing. Big takeaways for attaining Mint-like success include the following:

  • Dedicate resources to content (whether paying outsourced/contributed writers or in-house editors).
  • Enforce high quality editorial standards on all content types (writing, illustration, video).
  • Share content smartly through social channels.
  • Remember consistency and patience in building up an audience.

2. Hubspot

hubspot image

Makers of the marketing software platform Hubspot know the value of good content for inbound marketing. Hubspot cofounder Dharmesh Shah anecdotally told me that his customers who blog regularly average about six times more inbound leads than those who don’t.

It makes sense that Hubspot itself does a lot of content marketing. They produce case studies, videos, podcasts, webinars, and ebooks for their audience, educating them about their industry. All of that education helps Hubspot customers use the platform more effectively, but it also scoops new users out of seemingly thin air with every piece of content it publishes to the blogosphere.

Hubspot has over 4,000 customers. Their primary customer acquisition method: inbound leads from content marketing.

Here’s what the rest of us can take away from Hubspot’s content marketing:

  • Produce content with the goal of being seen as a “thought leader” rather than simply for the sake of having large quantities of content.
  • Publish diverse types of content, and don’t confine yourself to a single effort.
  • Don’t just produce content about yourself; create content that’s helpful to your audience.

Disclosure: Hubspot is a Mashable sponsor.

3. American Express

amex image

When did credit card companies start turning into media companies? It’s been happening for years, but American Express has done a bang-up job of turning its business and money expertise into actionable content for entrepreneurs — an influential subset of Amex’s total user market — with OpenForum.com.

Open Forum offers tools for small businesses, many of which have tie-ins with Amex products, but the site is also dedicated to hosting insightful and engaging content about the many facets of running a business. Useful content is produced by publishers like Inc. Magazine (as well as Mashable), and hosted on OpenForum.com, while other articles are created by in-house Open Forum writers. It’s a hybrid advertising/guest blogging/in-house editorial operation, and it’s fostering a community around the topic of running a business. All of the conversations and content in the community live under the American Express flag.

Lessons from Open Forum’s content marketing include the following:

  • Get trusted contributors to publish guest content on your properties.
  • Develop a community of users around a topic (rather than around your brand), and let your brand be the host of the community.
  • Don’t neglect original content authored by you. (You want to be the host and an expert).

Final Thought

Omnipresent publishing tools and Internet culture have made branded content more than a possibility for web businesses; they’ve made it a necessity. Whereas five years ago your business needed to have a website in order to exist, soon your company’s survival may depend on your ability to be an effective publisher.

Aside from Mint, Hubspot, and American Express, many other companies have had great success in with content marketing. Whose branded content have you liked (or disliked)?

Shane Snow is a contributor for Mashable and cofounder of Contently.com, an “agile publishing” platform for brands and professional bloggers.

Benefits of Scenario Planning

By Growth Resources, Inc. (Vistage)

“The goal of scenario planning is opening up the mind to hitherto unimaginable possibilities,” Malherbe says, “while at the same time prompting business leaders to question their own basic assumptions about how the world really works.”

Adds Poppei: “As a result of imagining different scenarios, the organization can more readily recognize warning signs as they unfold. By rehearsing different versions of the future, business leaders are better prepared to handle new situations as they arise. They’ve already examined options for actions that offer effective strategies for the future.”

Other benefits of scenario planning:

  • Inspires a sense of urgency about the future
  • Promotes proactive leadership initiatives
  • Offers a forum for CEOs and senior management to communicate their vision to different stakeholders

“By postulating different views of where your business is headed, you gain a sharper sense of the environment you’re working in now,” Malherbe notes. “It’s a great way to avoid being overly conservative in your thinking. You don’t want to limit your organization’s potential in today’s competitive marketplace.”

Through scenario planning, a business can take these pro-active steps:

Request the Entire Best Practice Module: Scenario Planning

The 6 People You Need in Your Corner

Nothing incredible is accomplished alone. You need others to help you, and you need to help others. With the right team, you can form a web of connections to make the seemingly impossible practically inevitable.

The Instigator:

Someone who pushes you, who makes you think. Who motivates you to get up and go, and try, and make things happen. You want to keep this person energized, and enthusiastic. This is the voice of inspiration.

The Cheerleader:

This person is a huge fan, a strong supporter, and a rabid evangelist for you and your work. Work to make this person rewarded, to keep them engaged. This is the voice of motivation.

The Doubter:

This is the devil’s advocate, who asks the hard questions and sees problems before they arise. You need this person’s perspective. They are looking out for you, and want you to be as safe as you are successful. This is the voice of reason.

The Taskmaster:

This is the loud and belligerent voice that demands you gets things done. This person is the steward of momentum, making sure deadlines are met and goals are reached. This is the voice of progress.

The Connector:

This person can help you find new avenues and new allies. This person breaks through roadblocks into finds ways to make magic happen. You need this person to reach people and places you can’t. This is the voice of cooperation and community.

The Example:

This is your mentor, you hero, your North Star. This is the person who you seek to emulate. This is your guiding entity, someone whose presence acts as a constant reminder that you, too, can do amazing things. You want to make this person proud. This is the voice of true authority.

The Secret of Successful Scenario Planning

By David Niles for Forbes.com

David Niles of SSAToday almost no business operates without some kind of scenario planning. Executives take pride in rigorously evaluating wide varieties of potential influences on their businesses, from customer moves to supplier changes, shifts in energy prices, competitive actions and a whole host of other business drivers.

Given the ubiquity of scenario planning, why do so many businesses find themselves playing catch-up when their market environments change? Recent dismal share performances and record defaults make it undeniable that this aspect of corporate planning has significant deficiencies.

Look at the automobile industry. A year ago, cheap financing, a core driver of growth, was drying up, crippling suppliers and putting auto retailers across the country out of business.

Yet one notable exception, the auto retailer AutoNation ( AN –news – people ), experienced profitability and positive cash flow in 2008 and 2009, and its stock price has appreciated nearly 400% since October. It’s a firm with locations in some of the hardest hit regions in the U.S., in Florida and the Southwest. It’s in one of the worst industries to be in right now. Staring into that abyss, what kind of performance do you think you would have achieved? How has AutoNation done it?

Backtrack three years to 2006. The conventional wisdom at the time held that Americans would go on and on buying 14 million to 16 million automobiles a year. The number might vary, but not by more than perhaps 10%. This assumption was based on the stable underpinnings of auto demand–cheap financing by car companies (and by home equity loans) and a customary replacement cycle of three years. Looking at the averages, you can easily see how executives might have made those now clearly erroneous assumptions.

Mike Jackson, the chairman and chief executive officer of AutoNation, took a different approach. He looked beyond the homogenized data and asked himself, What if buyers began to hold off and replace their cars after five years instead of three? What if the financing spigot–either for the automotive companies or for the individual consumer–got turned off? These things didn’t seem to be very likely three years ago, but if they came to pass they could (as they did) have a devastating effect on the industry. The fact that Jackson asked these questions ultimately had profound impact on AutoNation’s ability to survive in 2009.

Jackson had the wisdom to look at low-probability but high-consequence events that could rock his business. He avoided the trap of planning based on averaged data.

In business, as in life, real outcomes often don’t follow the averages. Yet much of corporate strategy and finance is planned as if they always did. Far too many companies make strategic and financial planning a routine exercise. They take last year’s budgets and results and assume some modest variation from the mean. Even when they do regular scenario planning they fail to delve deeply into their operations, or look at how multiple events might interrelate (for instance, increased energy costs and their impact on interest rates, which in turn would likely affect the cost of capital for one’s customers and their businesses).

From an investor’s perspective, the idea of planning for low-probability, high-consequence events is well treated in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Taleb’s method is very similar to what CEOs need to be doing–understanding the key leverage points of their economic models. For instance, many executives don’t take the time to understand what alters the financing of their customers’ purchases, or what their investors’ or lenders’ ultimate incentives are. Just that kind of misjudgment left many companies stranded in the fall of 2008, when the commercial paper markets dried up. They found themselves in a scramble for liquidity; they had to slash investments, hold back their strategies and shift their attention from their customers to their balance sheets.

By relying on simple variations on the mean, companies effectively homogenize the data they get, and they miss crucial key information. When you average out your customers’ demand, you lose sight of those customers’ key decision thresholds. Which ones will buy from you tomorrow and why? What does that say about their changing needs? Similarly, when thinking about competition, you can’t just model out where your competitors were last year in terms of pricing and service. You have to discern where you think they’ll be in the future

What Jackson and AutoNation did was understand better than their competitors the root drivers of car demand: cheap financing and a short replacement cycle. Modeling out what could disturb the fragile financing infrastructure that supported automotive purchases, they discovered the possibility of a huge near-term disruption in their customers’ ability to pay. And modeling out what could happen to their business if their customers began to hold on to cars longer, they discovered that they could reduce their inventory levels and increase their emphasis on service operations, just when customer demand began to lean that way. The results of those two perceptions–and AutoNation’s discipline in acting on them–set the stage for the company’s recent success.

These ideas may not sound revolutionary, but very few businesses show the discipline to create scenarios and measure probabilities for large but unexpected market changes.

Try it yourself. Start thinking about the four or five key assumptions you make in your forecasts. What will happen with your suppliers? Why? What will happen with your customers? With your competition? Why? Then apply a probability to each scenario, based on your impression of the likelihood of its occurring. Probabilities allow you to start to balance resource allocation to the most likely outcomes while not ignoring the possibility of others.

Lastly, look across those scenarios. What are their key themes and underlying drivers? When you do that you can model other scenarios and, just as important, set a focus on leading indicators that will help you prepare for different eventualities. I think you’ll find that the result is a deeper understanding of your business, and greater agility. By better evaluating specific possible outcomes, their probabilities and their underlying drivers, you can greatly improve your company’s ability to see around corners and prepare for the future.

David Niles is president of SSA & Co., a consulting firm that focuses on strategic process management.

Use Data to Unlock Growth Ahead of Your Rivals

By Homayoun Hatami, Maria Valdivieso de Uster and Lareina Yee

Most sales organizations devote attention to meeting short-term sales targets. The best aggressively but systematically apply “big data” thinking to help them spot trends 10 quarters out; to dissect homogenous markets to find the micromarkets of growth that lie within; and to uncover insights about customers and their behavior. Using data in this way takes the guesswork out of selling.

McKinsey & Company’s recent book, Sales Growth: Five Proven Strategies from the World’s Sales Leaders, argues that in a world where computing power is cheap and almost inconceivable volumes of data readily available, surely it’s time for all companies to adopt this mindset.

Keeping an eye on what lies ahead sounds like common sense, but the world’s best sales organizations are much more systematic. They have teams dedicated to monitoring megatrends such as demographic shifts, environmental changes, regulatory developments, disruptive technologies, and more. Their aim is to find where growth could come from two years down the line. In fact, they typically invest 2–4 percent of their sales budget in the distant growth these trends will bring.

For success, companies need to bring together a wide variety of datasets. EMC, for example, works with cutting-edge customers, its own engineers, a business development team, and research universities. This variety is crucial, notes vice-chairman William J. Teuber, because “trends don’t appear clearly from any one source. They come into focus only when you bring a mixture of perspectives together.”

Knowledge is one thing, acting on it something else entirely. World-class sales organizations quickly translate the trends they identify into real top-line impact. As the 2008 financial crisis unfolded, South Korean automaker Hyundai could see that economic uncertainty would make consumers skittish about buying cars. It launched a programme that let customers return their cars without penalty if they lost their jobs. Hyundai became the only major car manufacturer to increase U.S. sales in 2009.

The second key to growth is to uncover the micromarkets of growth that can lie hidden beneath the the surface. This means breaking markets into multiple discreet units, analyzing their growth potential and the level of competition that already exists, and adjusting resources accordingly. The convenience of geographic sales coverage should take a backseat to the profitability of pinpointing sales growth using all the data available.

A global chemicals and services provider increased the growth rate of new accounts from 15 to 25 percent in just one year. Its big breakthrough was adopting a granular view of the market. It went from looking at sales by region, as it had always done, to examining its share within customer industry sectors within specific US counties. This revealed that although the company had 20 percent of the overall market, it had up to 60 percent in some micro-markets, while in others, including some of the fastest-growing segments, its share was as low as 10 percent. Sales leaders acted fast. They now included forward-looking opportunity data at a much finer level of analysis when allocating resources and ensured that reps were equipped to win in the opportunity hot spots.

Portugal Telecom has wielded this micromarket hammer in Brazil. CEO Zeinal Bava explains that São Paulo city is very different from São Paulo state, “You have to walk away from the averages and map out the markets.” The crucial element of success is not to lump small markets together in terms of strategy just because they are in geographic proximity.

Finally, top sales companies find growth opportunities by using powerful analysis software to uncover hidden patterns in large data sets or from real-time information. The sheer scale and speed at which data accumulates offers incredible opportunities for those shrewd enough to capture and analyze the right data. These techniques are being applied in new ways every day to help with micro-segmentation, sentiment analysis, customizing cross-selling, and—with the rise of smartphones and other mobile data devices—location-based selling.

Big data is changing sales management in three areas. It’s speeding up the performance management cycle from monthly to daily; it’s creating new touch points and leads across both digital and traditional channels; and it’s affecting core elements of sales management, such as sales operations and training, which have to gear up for big data.

To turn data into revenue, top sales leaders harvest data from every available source: customers themselves, external providers, and advanced analytics and experimentation. Google noticed that the paid links that showed up in search results were a different shade of blue than those on Google’s e-mail program. It decided to find out which shade would maximize users’ click-through rate on the ads. A team tested 40 different shades, covering the entire spectrum of blue, on 1 percent of Google’s web pages and compared them to a control group. Users preferred a blue shade that had less green and more purple in it. The change was made across the board and Google netted an additional $200 million in revenues.

US retailer Williams-Sonoma integrates its customer databases with external data on some 60 million households, tracking metrics such as income and number of children. Targeted e-mails based on this data achieve response rates 10 to 18 times that of generic e-mail promotions, and the company is able to create different versions of its catalogs based on the preferences and behaviour of different groups of customers.

Gaining access to data from partners and other outside sources requires new kinds of relationships; no one wants to give up something of value for nothing. Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald explains that in forging relationships with partners and other organizations, “data becomes part of the currency for the relationship. When we do joint business planning, getting data becomes a big part of the value for us, and it’s a big part of how we work together. We have analytic capabilities that many retailers don’t have, so often we can use the data to help them decide how to merchandise or market their business in a positive way.” In other words, a supplier’s big data capabilities will become part of its competitive advantage when building relationships with selling partners.

Bringing big data to bear in your sales organization initially requires hiring the right people. Many companies begin by dedicating a small number of analysts to dissecting markets, customers, and segments to find pockets of growth from forthcoming trends, microscopic markets, or by mining into data to find customer preferences at the individual level. They find these investments comfortably pay off as sales increase and competitors with less foresight fall behind.

High Impact Marketing Strategies for the 2nd Half

By Kevin Steffey

Marketing Strategies for High Impact on SalesEarlier this week, Kathleen Steffey discussed 4 Steps to Accelerate Your Sales Growth Now.  One  suggestion in that post was to increase investment in lead generation tactics.  I felt it was important to expand on aligning marketing efforts to achieve this goal.  A few tactics that can have immediate impact include:

  1. Get creative with your current clients.
    Often our assumptions about how we are doing business with our current clients can cloud our perspective on new and unique ways to engage them.  For instance, we might assume our customers like to hear from us via our regular newsletter and will call if they have new business.  Or, our sales reps may believe their customers only like to buy specific products from us and other products from a competitor.I encourage you to take a step back and test the waters to see if you could offer a special promotion to your current customers that bundles additional products.  Or, test out new communications options such as a direct call from executive management to engage in a strategic discussion about their business direction.  You may find opportunities for a deeper relationship and increased sales potential.  Sometimes thinking out of the box on your customer approach could be just what the doctor ordered.
  2. Increase Pay Per Click (PPC) Advertising.
    If you are already doing PPC advertising, you have a wealth of information about what campaigns are working from your analytics tools from Google or Bing.  Use these tools to quantify your cost per lead and invest where you are getting a good return.  In my experience using Google Adwords, there is a direct relationship between ad budget and leads.  If I wanted to double leads, double your budget and you could predict fairly well the results (assuming there is unfulfilled demand for your product).  If your return is favorable at one level of investment, increase it for predictable results.If you are not using PPC, I would highly encourage getting started.  The great thing about PPC is you can start with a budget  you feel comfortable with and start testing it out.  There are lots of resources to help you (although a little trial and error in small steps is a very effective way to get started).  However, it is not as daunting as many will have you believe.  So, give it a chance.
  3. Capitalize on Word of Mouth, Referrals, and Recommendations.
    Studies show that over 90% of purchases involve some form of checking with trusted peers.  It is critical that you are leveraging outstanding performance with your current clients to drive new business.  A few examples of how to leverage positive word of mouth include:
  • incorporate requesting recommendations on LinkedIn directly on the heels of completing a successful transaction with a client. Apply those recommendations in your prospecting activity with companies in the same industry.
  • Put a profile or case study of your recent success right on your website and your social network pages  and reference it in your email communications.  Those success stories  and materials on your websites and social networks become immediately searchable and you will be surprised at how often that you will get calls from similar companies after posting something on your site.
  • Finally, get comfortable asking for referrals – if you don’t ask, you won’t get one.

There are obviously many other tactics that you could employ to impact your second-half results.  These 3 items though are proven to drive both short-term and long-term success if done well and I believe have the best chance to help you beat your year-end goals.

Kevin Steffey is President of Naviga Recruiting & Executive Search, a national Sales and Marketing Recruitment firm.  Kevin and Naviga have a passion for sales and marketing positions due to their direct impact on the growth of their customers. Check out www.navigarecruiting.com to engage a partner in growing and developing your team.