grAmrr & Cumyunikashun

I have to admit, I never liked to study Grammar when I was in school.  Usually, when the teacher would say something like, “today we are going to study parenthetical clauses” my eyelids would get heavy and my mouth would start to involuntarily drool.

However, as I surf my way through the information superhighway, I’m surprised to learn how advanced I am in comparison to the average blogger, RSSer, tweeter and commentators out there.  For example, here was a comment to one of my recent blog posts:

“Just wish to say your article is as astonishing. The clarity on your put up is simply spectacular and that i could think you’re knowledgeable in this subject. Fine together with your permission allow me to seize your RSS feed to keep updated with coming near near post. Thanks a million and please keep up the enjoyable work.”

Ouch!  Or:

“Unquestionably believe that that you stated. Your favourite justification seemed to be on the internet the simplest thing to consider of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed while other folks consider concerns that they plainly do not recognise about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the whole thing with no need side-effects , other people could take a signal. Will probably be again to get more. Thanks”

The judge gives a life sentence for mercilessly hacking up the English language with a plastic spork (an eating utensil that combines a spoon and a fork into one device).

To be fair, these posters are probably not native English speakers.  As such, I give them the benefit of the doubt.  God knows my syntax is horrible whenever I try to spew out my limited vocabulary of Spanish, German or Turkish.

What’s perhaps even more annoying are the mistakes and just plain laziness of the average texter, tweeter and other internet and phone denizens out there.  Especially those who post in a professional capacity.  There is a concept called proofreading that I highly recommend, especially if you’re looking for me to take you seriously or otherwise view your argument in a positive light.

The bottom line is, people judge you based on how you present yourself.  In person, this includes your appearance, body language, etc.  Once they have a first impression of you based on your appearance, your communication skills (or lack thereof) will solidify their overall opinion of you.  If you sound like you can’t be bothered to pronounce your words correctly, observe at least basic grammar and speak in a clear, confident tone; people will have a negative opinion of you.

With online media, your appearance is often left out of the equation.  At best, people will have access to your profile picture.  That said, if you are writing in a professional forum or on a professional topic, make sure your profile picture isn’t the one with you and your 2 best friends in the middle of a 15-tequila-shot binge (or the morning after).  Also, when you are referring people to your online profile, website, Facebook or other sites, make sure those sites are free of negative imagery.  Create separate pages or profiles if you have to.

Keep in mind also that because your online posts, tweets, comments and blogs are devoid of body language, voice tone and other communication nuances, you must be that much clearer in your intention.  For example, not everyone reading this post may recognize my attempt at humor in response to the quoted blog comments above.  Sarcasm is notoriously tricky to communicate via only the written word.  Unless you are very sure that your audience will understand your style, humor, etc., keep those elements to a minimum.

And finally, proofread, proofread, proofread!!!  If you’re language skills aren’t that of an English major, don’t try to be fancy.  Say what you mean as clearly and concisely as possible.  Make sure there are no speeling or grammatical errors (yes, I intentionally misspelled ‘spelling’ to prove my point).  That’s what a spellcheck was created for.  And if you’re writing an emotional response to something, take a few minutes to calm down and reread your comments before you hit send.

Good luck and good writing! (I hope I didn’t overdo it on the parenthetical clauses)

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Time is Money

In our never-ending quest to save money or get a great deal, we often forget all that goes into a purchase. How reputable is the seller? What happens if I need to return the item? What if I’m not happy with my product or service? How convenient and responsive is the seller’s customer service?

For example, let’s say you want to buy some business cards. You call a professional printer (such as my company) to get a quote. After consulting with you as to budget, design, and features, the printer quotes you, say $50 per 1000.

Next, you browse the internet and come across an online company that has stock designs that you simply input your personal information over. The same 1000 cards costs only $20! Wow, great deal! Seeing such a great price, you jump on the internet site and order your cards.

After waiting a week, you receive your cards and realize that the name is misspelled. You go back to the website and realize that you typed in the name wrong, and got exactly what you ordered. The company you bought the cards from has an automated phone tree that takes 5 minutes to get through. Then, you get a voicemail (or worse, get stuck in a phone queue for 30 minutes). By the time someone answers your call after 30 minutes on hold (or after a day in the case of voicemail or email), you’re understandably frustrated. Hearing your angry tone (no doubt the 30th angry voice they’ve heard that day), the customer service rep curtly explains that the online proof is considered your authorization, and you can’t get a refund or credit, but will have to reorder.  Now, you’re either stuck with crossing your name off and writing it in, leaving it misspelled (both of which looks unprofessional) or reordering the cards.

At this point, if you decide to reorder, you’ve invested $40 plus all that time trying to get your issue resolved.

Had you gone with the first printer, you could have gotten a professional design uniquely suited to your business, an extra set of eyes to look over your information for errors, and an extra chance at officially proofing the information.  If the cards came back wrong, you could call the printer and talk to a real person, possibly gotten a credit or reprint or had the situation otherwise handled smoothly.

While my example is centered around business cards, it applies to everything.  Manufacturers are constantly cutting back on customer service, tightening their return policies and reducing customization; all in an effort to cut costs and offer everything dirt cheap.  Unfortunately, if there is a problem of any kind, you’re facing a truly daunting task in trying to resolve the issue if you’ve chosen a dirt cheap vendor.

All this is not to say that you can’t get a great deal from a reputable company.  All other things being relatively equal, I love cheap price as much as the next guy.  But if I have to choose between a manufacturer that I know has lousy customer service and a company with great customer service that is a few percent higher, I choose the more expensive option.

Why?  Because time is money.  How much time would I spend on the phone trying to navigate to a decision maker, explain the problem (as he or she probably knows nothing about my order), haggle back and forth and finally get approval for a resolution to a problem that is due to the vendor’s error (let alone if I made a mistake)?  That’s time that I should be spending on the phone getting more business or handling more important things in life.

Keep that in mind next time you’re out shopping.  And show some love to those of us who work just as hard to deliver great service in addition to good prices.

How pinching pennies can make you penniless

As the economy continues to be sluggish, many people and companies are tightening their wallets and trying to shave every penny they can off their expenses.  While this makes sense on the surface, it can have damaging long-term effects.

I’ll share my personal history to illustrate this.  For several years, I’ve had quite a lot of debt.  About $10k in credit card debt, and another $50k in unpaid student loans.  Much of this debt was incurred as I struggled to find gainful employment out of college; and later, when I was laid off and was out of work for a few months.  To try to get out of this situation, I responded by trying to cut any and all expenses I could: reduce the heat and A/C, cut out all eating out, reduce entertainment to nil, etc.

I expected that if I reduced my expenses, the result would be more money available to pay off debts and greater stability.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.  Every time I started making headway, some mysterious emergency would come and wipe out my progress.  My cars broke down.  My son had accidents or got sick.  Unexpected problems arose.

Only recently, when I stopped focusing on money problems, debt and cutting, did things start to turn around.  I focused on earning more.  Bringing in more income, rather than reduce outflow.  I quickly found new opportunities to earn extra monet.  The bills settled down, emergencies stopped coming up, and I’m finally starting to pay off those debts.

I’ve witnessed the same phenomena in business.  When I worked for a wholesaler in the foodservice industry, I would inevitably run across cheapskates who haggled me down as much as they could to get a better price.  The worst ones had 5-10 separate vendors, and shopped around on every item.

Instead of getting rich, however, most of them went out of business or struggled just to keep their doors open.  They spent so much time trying to stop money from going out, that they never focused on bringing more money in.  None of the several vendors showed any loyalty to these customers, as they barely made any money themselves.  When the account went even slightly past due, they were cut off.

A better approach is to pick one or 2 vendors and partner with them.  Find the vendor that has the best combination of price, service and knowledge of their business (and yours) and give them all of the business.  They will take care of you.  They will give you creative ideas.  They will help you get the word out.  They will promote your business using their social media, word of mouth and other channels.  We’ve just started doing this with our vendors, and we are already seeing positive results.

More importantly, don’t skimp on your marketing budget.  While you shouldn’t continually throw money out without results, you shouldn’t cut marketing completely either.  The big advantage of social, online and email marketing isn’t so much in the cost as it is in the ability to track results.  Pay attention to which messages and specials get responses and sales.  Then, back up your online messages with print and hard copy promotional materials that repeat that message.  Some people still don’t use social media or respond to online marketing.  However, by using online marketing strategies first, you can eliminate a lot of the trial and error involved with finding a marketing message that works.  Then, you can use your hard copy pieces more efficiently to really bring in the income.

Happy hunting!

Jim

AFS

Knowledge is Power… and Money

The old saying that knowledge is power is true, but it also applies to sales.

Ten years ago, when I first entered into sales, a good account would have maybe two or three competitors vying for their business.  In this environment, the trick was to get the customer or prospect to like you, have a good product and present good ideas.  Typically, you could make a decent profit and subsequently, a decent commission check, just by being there.

Now, with the Internet, buyers have unprecedented access to options.  If I’m selling a commodity item, I no longer have to compete with 1 or 2 competitors, but potentially thousands.  A buyer can go online, type their product into a search engine, and find a dozen offers at dirt cheap prices.  While people still buy from people they like, a customer won’t like you much when they find out they can get the exact same item online for 40% cheaper.

The secret is knowledge.  What do you know that can help that customer?  What options should they consider?  How can your expertise help them make more money or save them money in the long run?  Your knowledge is the key to taking the sale from a commodity, dollars-and-cents negotiation (which you will eventually lose, every time) to a relationship-building, money-making sale.

In my business of custom print, people can certainly go online and order their marketing pieces, business cards, etc. from bargain basement online printers.  They probably can get it cheaper, too.  But do they know all of the options available?  Do they know which options work well for their application?  Which options really make an impact, and which options merely add to the cost?

I’m the expert.  I know printing.  By providing them with advice, options and using my experience and expertise, I save them time and money.  More importantly, the end result will be a professional product that will deliver the most bang for their buck.
As a sales or marketing professional, don’t be an order taker.  Don’t be a vanilla, low-price dealer.  There is always someone else out there who will do it cheaper.  With the Internet, buyers have virtually unlimited access vendors to purchase their product.  But if you are the expert, and you help them navigate the options to the best solution for THEM, they’ll respect you and continue to do business with you.  Be a professional.

As a buyer, don’t fall into the trap of cheaper-is-always-better.  Are you really getting the best value for your purchase?  Does service count?  Will that online vendor with a phone tree 9 button-pressing options deep, who is located halfway across the country be there if something goes wrong (especially if you’ve wringed every last penny out of the cost)?  Support your professional salesmen.  The good ones will always be there for you.

Make a personal connection today

Normally, I work 40-45 hours a week at my day job, and another 30 hours a week or so at my church, delivering spiritual counseling. As you can imagine, my time with my family comes at a heavy premium.

This week I’ve been off from my work with my church, enjoying some much-needed R&R and time with my kids.  Yesterday, while I was playing with my son in the pool in our apartment complex, I noticed another kid playing by himself, while his mother sat in a lounge chair, texting for several minutes.  After playing with my son for several more minutes, I again noticed the mother, who was now reading a book.

The entire half hour we were there, I think she said maybe 2 sentences to her son.  She divided her time between her phone and her book.  At first, it made me sad that she thought so little of the time she had with her son that she didn’t feel the need or desire to play or interact with him.  On the other hand, it reaffirmed the gratitude that I felt for the time I did have with my son.  I haven’t always felt this way; nor have I truly appreciated the gifts that I do have.

In our society, we are so inundated with communication from TV, magazines, text messages, email and elsewhere that we tend to zone out a bit.  Personal, one-on-one communication is becoming a lost art.  Several years ago, I was at a restaurant on Friday night.  I noticed a group of 5 people at a table.  What struck me was, every one of them was talking on a cell phone.  There were five friends out together on a Friday night, yet none of them were really there!  And that was before texting and email were readily available on smartphones.  Now, it’s common to see people completely oblivious to the outside world; faces transfixed at a screen about 2 feet in front of their eyes, frantically tapping out messages.

Take some time today to physically talk to someone; as in, stand in front of them and communicate.  Put down the phone, ipad, etc.  Shut of the TV and computer.  Close your magazine or 50 Shades of Grey (or other book).  Have an actual, human, face-to-face interaction with someone.  Play with your kids.  Enjoy someone else’s company.  If you find it difficult to do, don’t worry.  Instead, see it as a sign that you need to practice this much more often.

As Farris Bueller once said, “life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

 

The power of gratitude

In sales as well as life, it’s important to focus on-and be grateful for- the positive things. Thank your customers for their business, no matter how small it may be. Thank your prospects for the opportunity to show them what you can do. Thank your employer for the opportunity to work for them. Thank your employees for all their hard work.

As I’ve been making a number of sales calls lately, I’ve changed my attitude about how I view the work and the people I talk to. I thank them for the time, thank them for their honesty if they are not interested, thank them for their smile, thank them for the help or information they give, and always wish them a great day.

It may sound trite, but I really believe that it has made a huge difference. I’m getting more leads, more requests for quotes, more return calls and soon, more business.

I want to take this opportunity to thank my boss for his patience, guidance and assistance. I want to thank my team for their hard work. I want to thank all of my customers, both current and future.  Thanks to Pete for the opportunity you’ve given me.
I want to thank my wife for constantly trying to change me for the better. Thanks to my wonderful boys for smiling and playing with me, and keeping me young at heart. Thank you to LRH for giving me a spiritual compass that guides me. And of course, thank you to all who read this, and may your days and lives be filled with success, wonder and joy.

And, if you’ve liked this, pass it along to those you are thankful to. Better yet, write your own notes of thanks.

The importance of follow up

I had to be reminded of this recently, which is a bit embarrassing.  It doesn’t matter how many prospects you have in your “pipeline”.  It’s how many people who need or want something that you sell see your message at the right time (when they are ready to buy).

 

With the magic of Social Media and the Internet, you can get a ridiculous amount of information.  Phone number, address, contact information, who the principle players are, etc.  As a result, old school sales managers salivate at the thought of having sales pipelines full of thousands of potential customers.

In reality, though it doesn’t matter much if you have 100, 1,000 or 10,000 entries in the hopper.  It all still boils down to making that connection with a prospect.  Saying the right thing to the right person at the right time will create success.  Sending out generic email blasts to thousands of contacts isn’t likely to generate much interest.  Think about it; what do you do when you see an email that says, “SAVE BIG!” “WIN A NEW CAR!” or “ALL NEW _________!”  If you’re like most of us, you click delete without paying any attention.

Granted, you can save a lot of money by typing one message, adding your email list and clicking Send, rather than getting in your car, driving to your prospect’s door, and delivering the same cheesy message in person.  But that’s my point.  Why spend any time at all writing, saying or hand-delivering a cheesy, lazy, vanilla sales pitch that your prospects have heard a million times already?  Ask yourself this: would you buy from anyone who verbally vomited a canned pitch at you?

If the answer is no, ask yourself, “what WOULD I respond to?” What message would really catch your attention?  If you wanted or needed the product that you are selling, what would you want to hear someone say, that would make you buy from them?

 

When you start answering those questions, you are on the way to successfully marketing yourself and your product.

Once you’ve created a good marketing message, you need to develop a system of follow-up.  Let’s say you do have 10,000 people in your email “pipeline”.  You’ve created the best informational copy, complete with pictures, video and a great offer.  Now what?  You could wait by the phone like a 15-year-old girl waiting for that cute guy to call back, but there’s a good chance that won’t produce much other than an angry manager.

Realistically, you need to call back and follow-up. Probably at least 3-5 times.

A better approach is to segment your list into groups.  Target each group with 3-5 products.  Then, pick one product to discuss when you follow-up.  Tell your prospects how the product will benefit them PERSONALLY.  If after 1-2 calls, you don’t get traction, wait 2 weeks and call again with another product.  Rinse and repeat.

Good selling!

Maximize You Marketing Message with Mail

For years, companies have used direct mail to advertise sales, showcase new products and build their brand.

However, in recent years many companies have shied away from direct mail due to the cost.  The largest factor in this cost is postage.  While the cost of printing has gone down in recent years ( you can get 5000 4″x6″ postcards with  full-color on both sides for about $.06 each), the cost of postage has risen.  Even with full CASS certification, you’re looking at 27-32 cents each to mail a postcard.

In an effort to increase the volume of mail advertising, the USPS has created a program called Every Door Direct Mail, or EDDM.  This program drastically reduces the cost of postage on postcards.  The typical cost per piece for EDDM is 14.5 cents each, which is a 45% savings!  USPS hopes that this program will create a resurgence in mail marketing.

The EDDM program has some important restrictions:

1) The mailer must be rectangular;

-Rounded corners must be no more than 1/8” radius;

-Between 6.125” and 12” High, or

-Between 11.5 and 15” Long, or

-Between ¼ and ¾” thick

2) The mailers must be hand delivered to the Post Office in the ZIP code you intend to mail to.

3) There is a minimum of 200 and a maximum of 5000 pieces per day per ZIP code.

If you have been considering doing direct mail advertising, or are already using direct mail, but want to use EDDM to save on postage, now may be the time.  We can save you quite a bit on the printing, and have several sizes of mailers that are EDDM-ready.  All you need to do is register with the post office and deliver the pieces to the post office.  In addition to EDDM, we also provide full mailing services, including CASS certification, National Change of Address verification, mail list processing, and more for a totally turnkey operation.  Call us at (800) 777-0072 for more information.

Jim Kurtz

Accurate Forms & Supplies

Fun Facts for the 4th

In honor of the Nation’s Birthday, here are some interesting bits of information relating to the 4th.  Enjoy!

1) The only two signers of the Declaration of Independence who later served as President of the United States were John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

2) Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (bitter rivals) died on the same day, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration.

3) Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letterto his daughter Sarah Bache in 1784:

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country.

He is a Bird of bad moral character. He does not get his Living honestly.

You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk;

And when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey.  For in Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America.

He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.“

4) There were an estimated 2.5 million people living in the newly independent nation in 1776.

Total U.S. population in 2011 is 311.7 million.

5) 87.5% ($2.8 million) of imported U.S. flags are from China.

  I still kind of like the old “Betsy Ross” flag; made in the USA:   

6) 97% ($190.7 million) of imported fireworks are from China.

Source for the above material:

http://interviewangel.com/17-fun-facts-about-the-fourth-of-july/

7) The 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence did not sign at the same time, nor did they sign on July 4, 1776. The official event occurred on August 2, 1776, when 50 men signed it.

8) Thomas McKean was the last to sign in January, 1777.

Source: http://www.purpletrail.com/partytrail/featured_fourth_of_july/4th_of_july_history_trivia_and_facts

Have a safe and fun Fourth of July!

Zero in on Your message

I’m in a position that many salesmen would die for.  My company has a TON of products.  Our line sheet has 64 items, spanning 12 categories.  In total, we sell over 20,000 products from about 20 regular manufacturers.  This is a stark contrast to the last two sales jobs I had, where I sold commercial energy contracts and international phone cards.  Basically, in those jobs I had 1 option.  If the prospect didn’t want or need it, I was out of luck.

The difficulty in having such a large variety of products is, how do I communicate everything we do to a brand new customer?  If I just start spewing out a laundry list of products or categories, I usually get to about number 4 or 5 before their eyes begin to glaze over.  This is actually quite funny to watch, unless you actually plan on selling them something.

As my owner reminded me yesterday, people are busy.  They don’t have time to listen to a salesman drone on and on about everything they do or sell.  As a salesman, you need to have a plan of attack.  Know what your opening statement will be.  Know what type of business it is, and what products you have that will likely interest the customer.  If you have a lot of products like I do, focus on one or two that that specific customer will need or use and talk about that initially.

For example, for law firms, my owner recommended leading in with HP brand toner.  This is because law firms typically use a lot of toner and we are very competitive with HP brand.  I ask questions to gauge interest; such as “are you using HP printers? Do you know about HP’s current incentives?”  If there is interest, I continue on that product line.

If there is not an interest, or the person isn’t using that product at all, I either ask if there is a product or service that they have trouble getting or a vendor they don’t like dealing with.  If I can find a “pain” point, I might be able to get in that way.

If I haven’t struck an interest by then, I graciously bow out and leave my information.  On the next call, I plan to take in a different 1-2 items to show.  I continue in this fashion until the person either is interested in something or has filed a restraining order on me.  All kidding aside, common wisdom seems to suggest that it takes 3-5 calls on a prospect to get a sale.  If I try to sell all 20,000 products to a prospect at once, they get overwhelmed.

By spreading my message and products out over several calls, I come across as the idea guy.  I’m someone who is thinking of them and their business.  People respect that.  The people that don’t respect it are often the people who are all about price and nothing else (a losing game for a salesman).

Be knowledgable, stay focused, follow up and truly help the customer.  You’ll build your book of business faster than you think.