Saturday, August 20, 2022

10 Characteristics of Growth Entrepreneurs (and how to market to them)

A few years ago, I did a deep dive into the personalities and motivations of the entrepreneurs behind Canada's Fastest-Growing Companies. 

The following list should interest anyone who wants to try to emulate the business success of these focused innovators, or wants to market to them. Each paragraph contains a relevant insight about their strategy or tactics, and then a related pointer on how to grab the attention of these growth leaders.  

1) These companies are founded on innovation. They present new solutions to their markets, not business as usual. If you are offering products and solutions that are new and improved, they’d better be genuine, because these firms have written the book on innovation.

2) These firms offer real value in the marketplace: new solutions, better service, lower prices. (How else do you break into today’s crowded markets?) Since these emerging companies create so much value for their clients, they expect value from their suppliers in return. They are most receptive to marketers who also put value and customer benefit first.

3) Most of these companies succeed through productive partnerships with other organizations. These companies understand win-win, and they expect you to, too.

4) Their founders have leveraged personal relationships to get where they are today. They are innovative dealmakers. And they expect no less from you.

5) Being an emerging business doesn’t mean you lack experience; many of these entrepreneurs brought years of industry experience to the table. Expect entrepreneurial clients to combine small-biz focus with sophisticated business knowledge and toughness.

6) Deep personal interest in their products or industry often helps growth entrepreneurs persevere and succeed. They expect you to be as excited about your product as they are about theirs.

7) Growth firms pour cash back into the business. However successful these businesses have become, most of them are cash-poor, because they are always prototyping new products, services or markets. Address their management's concerns about price.

8) Growth firms operate globally. For them, borders are opportunities, not obstacles. They need solutions that will work around the world.

9) These firms are keen to keep growing. That means their needs are always changing. And it means your products and services must be able to serve these customers all along their growth path.

10) These companies are on missions. Many of today’s growth entrepreneurs believe their products and services really can make the world a better place. To connect with these entrepreneurs, your business brand, too, should stand for something that matters.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

How to Win Arguments Without Making Enemies

This is a terrific #lifehack.

Instead of creating negative vibes and lengthening pointless debates, here's a way to get your team onside and make better decisions, together.

This tactic won't just help you win debates. You'll get more robust discussions, and ultimately better outcomes.

Here's the secret, in 17 words: Make the best points you can for your opponent's case, and then undercut it with logical clarity.

A great article from Inc. magazine: 

"How to Win Arguments Without Making Enemies"

"To convince people they're wrong, you must first explain why they're right."

Thursday, May 26, 2022

It’s all about the benefits: Communicating for Results

How does your product or service help your customers win?

I’ve been doing some marketing consulting with a client lately. When I asked them to describe some of their business-oriented products, I was taken aback when they quoted a litany of specs and features.

So I had to tell them they were putting the cart before the horse. This was a marketing opportunity, and they responded with random product details instead of customer benefits. 

The next time they're asked to describe their products, I asked my client to take a Benefits-First approach. Such as: “Customers like you are usually looking to get more done faster. Our product/service will help you get better results 20% faster, at half the cost of the process you're using now.”

And then, instead of droning on, I suggested they ask their prospect the all-important question:  "Would you like to hear more?" or "Can I tell you how it works?"

(I learned this long ago from Tom Stoyan, Canada's Sales Coach. Don't talk too long, and always ask for permission to keep going. Otherwise, how do you know you are answering the questions the prospect has in their head?) 

This process enables you to assess the client's interest level before you head too far in the wrong direction. You’ll get important feedback, whether the prospect says “Yeah, that sounds really interesting,” or, “No, that not what I need.”

Either way, you get to lead with HOW YOUR PRODUCTS and SERVICES CREATE VALUE FOR CUSTOMERS, rather than “here's how our products work.” Because no one cares how a product works until they believe it can help them.

BBF. Benefits before features.  


Why is BBF so important? 

Because business communication is simple, yet also really, really hard. The simplest part is the challenge we start with: managers and executives are smart people, but very busy and time-challenged. That often turns into impatience. If they don't understand a message, they are more likely to ignore it and forget about it than to take the time to do more research or ask questions. 

So it's essential for business communications to speak plainly and establish genuine connection as quickly as possible. Few business decision-makers have the time to offer you a second chance.

The hard part, then, is to find the right words with which to engage business buyers. Your language has to be simple and comfortable, yet put together in a novel, disciplined way that makes them insightful and compelling.  

The pressure is always on business leaders to accomplish more with the same resources (or less). So they are ALWAYS looking for better ways to get results. But experience tells them that most vendors add zero value, so they work hard to screen out every marketing claim they hear.

So our job is to establish credibility, impress people with our talent and potential, and give them a precise estimate of the benefits they can achieve by working with us. To break through those screens, quickly and memorably. 

The most valuable benefits most business leaders seek are usually cost savings, higher sales, performance improvements, or some combination thereof. 

So every client/prospect communication has to be about customer benefit: how much we can save them, or how our products/services can increase their effectiveness or capacity or profitability. You do this with a complex, ever-changing blend of research, rules of thumb, stories and anecdotes, customer testimonials, and so on. 

It takes preparation and discipline. Product knowledge is important, but customer knowledge is crucial. 

Until we’ve engaged prospects with our benefits promise, they're not even listening. Because they are always busy thinking, “Get to the point. What's in this for me?”

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Your Future, Your Choice

 I wrote the words below in an email today to a friend in business.

Then I realized it could be a blogpost. Maybe the most important post I've ever written.

It's about the green energy transition. It's about your future, and mine. The  future of business, the future of the planet, and the stark choices ahead of us.

Transformation is always hard. But what people don't realize is that the transition has already begun. You can embrace it now, or watch the tide sweep away the wasteful "old world." 

Here's my email.

I believe the climate issue is about to become BIG.
Because it's not just about fear any more. It's about action. It's going to be more and more about heroes, not villains. Financiers and funds, entrepreneurs, environmentalists, technology geeks, authors, promoters, pioneers, champions. Building new systems and technology, creating jobs, saving the planet. 

THIS is what we've been waiting for. Action on every front. Doing, not undoing. Change rooted in passion and invention, not regulation.
It would be a shame if we're not ready. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Your story is your future

I just finished a major journalistic project that involved writing brief profiles on 50 exciting up-and-coming companies.

My job was to explain what each company does, who its customers are, and what has made the firm successful. 

Our timeline was tight, so we we made hasty arrangements for interviews with some of the CEOs, but we depended wholly on the web for much of our information.

That means not just scouring companies' websites for information, but also reading annual reports, financial statements, press releases, past interviews in print and on YouTube, customer reviews, industry reports, and whatever else we could find.

The disappointing part, and the concerning part, was to see how bad almost all of these companies are at explaining to a general audience what they do.

Sorry, "award-winning world-class solutions at scale" just doesn't cut it.  

Yes, a company that sells sophisticated electrical equipment needs to be able to communicate with sophisticated buyers of that kind of hardware. 

BUT, they also need to be able to communicate what they do to everybody else who might be interested in their story: employees and future hires, journalists, potential partners or investors, their local communities, possible suppliers, and all those potential customers who don't really understand which products they need.

If you can't communicate with a general audience at an engaging, Grade 8 level, you're not communicating at all.

My colleagues on this project were as surprised as I was by how bad most of these companies are at explaining what they do. Trying to understand their products, their strategies, or the needs of the marketplace is really difficult when companies talk only themselves in industry jargon.

How can you tell if your company is guilty of selective communication? 

Look up all the "About Us" information on your website or in your reports and sales materials. This includes company histories, "What We Do," mission and vision statements, and so on. Then round up your friends, your spouse, golf buddies, second cousins, any average group. Ask them to read this material, and then restate, in their words, what your business does. 

Ask them, too, what benefits you provide, how you do it, and who your audience is. 

I predict you'll find that your explanations are nowhere near as clear as you thought.

How do you fix this problem? 
Find someone on staff who can write, and challenge them to tell your story better. Hire a marketing student, or an ex-journalist, or even a PR firm, to tell your story. Let them ask all the questions they like. Start with a blank slate, and you'll be able to see your company clearly for what it does, not what it looks like from the inside.

These are the sorts of questions that your "About Us" company stories need to answer:
  • What does your company do? 
  • Who are your customers? How do your products or services help them achieve their goals faster, more economically, or more powerfully?
  • What's your one-sentence mission statement?
  • Does your company have a purpose higher than merely selling more goods and services?
  • How are your purpose and mission aligned?
  • What's your best customer story?  (A customer story explains how your products and expertise helped a client achieve its goals or exceed expectations. It's powerful because it explains what your company does from the customer's point of view, not yours.)
  • What's your vision for your industry? What are your own company's goals within that context?
  • What are your plans for making your customers experiences and outcomes even better in future? 
When you answer these questions (and better still, engage all your people in discussing the answers), you'll be miles ahead as an organization. You'll have renewed purpose, and incredible alignment around what you do and your common objectives. 

And you'll make customers a part of your journey and your future success. Not just puzzled outsiders, scratching their heads as they try to figure out what your world-class solutions can do for them.

Further reading: 

Me mocking silly vision and mission statements, part 1
The 9 Worst Mission Statements of All Time
17 Best Mission Statement Examples (+ How to Write Your Own)

Thursday, April 07, 2022

The 2030 Challenge: Prosperity or Despair?

Society is reaching a tipping point.

By 2030, we will have decided whether to embrace life on this planet, or death. We will have decided whether we support global growth, peace, equality, freedom, health and education, or a dog-eat-dog world where the "haves" choose to let half the world live in poverty and precarity.

This is a time when leadership will matter in every sphere: business, politics and community. As a leader, you must decide whether you stand with empathy, love and opportunity for all.

2030 is the turning point. 2030 is “The Year” that the United Nations has targeted for achieving its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It's also the year that countries and organizations are expected to achieve tangible progress in their plans to become carbon-neutral by 2050 - to save life on this planet from accelerated global warming and extreme weather events.

2030 is also the year that the last of the baby boomers reach retirement age - giving businesses and other organizations a chance to reset their leadership visions around more contemporary values such as creativity, collaboration, and serving all stakeholder communities, not just dividend-hungry shareholders. 

2030 must be a time when we celebrate the actions we have taken to clean the planet, encourage global growth, and end war, inequality, poverty, hunger and disease.

And as someone reminded me the other day, 2030 is just 400 weeks away.

Now is the time for business leaders to call a fresh start. How can we stop polluting the planet, and make it a better place? How can we evolve from serving customers to enhancing human life?

It’s not just about climate/sustainability, but building a more just planet.

A number of the UN's SDGs aim straight at business: 

Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy

* Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

* Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.

* Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities

* Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

From now on, every decision you make should be looked at through the lens of 2030. Are you contributing to a cleaner, freer, more prosperous world? Or are you just acting in your own self-interest? 

Because organizations that serve only themselves will increasingly be shunned. 

A recent “HumanKind Study” study by marketing firm Leo Burnett uncovered profound disconnects. In a poll of 4,633 Canadians, the study found that half of respondents are concerned they are “wasting their life” doing “unfulfilling work.” A full 76% of Canadian consumers said they don’t believe brands understand their problems.

Tahir Ahmad, Burnett Canada’s chief strategy officer, says employers and brands need to address these disconnects. We must find “a way forward that focuses not solely on profit or product, but on people, and how we can lead more fulfilling lives.”

PwC found similar disconnects in its 2021 Global Culture Survey. For instance, 63% of Canadian business leaders say their organizations have developed a distinctive culture that sets them apart from their competitors – but only 41% of employees share their belief.

Compared to American workers, the survey found Canadians have much higher doubts about their employer’s ability to adapt to change, set a positive “tone from the top,” or “act as role models for their organization’s purpose, values and culture. 

Companies that choose not to prioritize ecosystem interests, including the SDGs, will increasingly be seen as problems in a world desperate for solutions. Which side will you be on?   

Now is the time for leadership. Executives must develop clear plans for their organizations, and for their employees, products, and customer relationships. They need to reconnect with their communities (not just “stakeholders”). As PwC reports, Canadians want to see their leaders setting a clear path towards building trust by giving their people a shared sense of purpose, while also making sure they feel valued, connected and visibly supported.”

For business leaders, 2030 is a global target date for achieving more human-centred workplaces, more responsible production and consumption processes, and more sustainable and inclusive growth. That means more innovation (in products, services, and business methods), "decent work," and partnering with other companies, around the world, to create more win-win relationships. 

Consider Tesla, which became the world's most valuable automaker simply because it saw the need for green energy sooner than its more established competitors around the world.    

This is a manifesto for a new way of doing business – and new ways of thinking about business. Redefining relationships with shareholders, employees, customers and communities. Finding cost-effective energy solutions, decoupling growth from environmental degradation, providing productive employment for all, building better cities, and uplifting marginalized communities so all can share in the bounty of this planet. 

The Government of Canada puts its 2030 mission this way:  “Leave no one behind.”

As the boomers' "greed is good" mentality fades from the boardroom, what values will replace it? How will your business get ahead of this transition? How can you find, attract and motivate new leaders who understand these transformative times and your changing customer base? 

2030 is not just a deadline – it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

By embracing change now, organizations will be in better shape to lead this transformation, become role models, and take advantage of all the new opportunities, relationships and regulations that will emerge as we move closer to 2030.

2030 is not not just about the SDGs. It's about choosing community over self, long-term thinking over short-term, stakeholder rights rather than shareholders' rights, and prioritizing human need over greed.

And it starts with us all, right now.

Monday, February 21, 2022

What items can YOU put in your Proof Book?

To sell more, you need third-party cred. Who have you (or your products/services) most impressed, and how?

The best way to build trust is to have a mittful of testimonials or case studies. In my experience, however, most companies (or salespeople) mismanage this process. They don't keep a record of positive client feedback they've received, and they don't develop customer success stories that they can insert into sales conversations at the drop of a hint.

How do you get better at this? My friend and mentor Tom Stoyan, “Canada’s Sales Coach,” has an answer: Pull out your Proof Book.

Stoyan says: “Since most of us don't like to buy on unsupported facts or claims, develop a resource that can be used to prove the benefits of your product or  company. This could include testimonials, media articles, charts, statistics and   brochures.”

When prospects ask tough questions or express some doubt, hit ’em with your Proof Book: the body of evidence that says you consistently create value for your clients and your community.

What items could you include in your Proof Book?

Think back on all the evidence you've earned overt the years: emails, letters of appreciation, awards, positive media appearances, social media post, speaking opportunities, etc. Whatever documents your products success, or your own stature as a leader in your field. 

Then, ask yourself, what additional stories could you tell if you went back to satisfied clients and asked them for anecdotes or testimonials about your relationship together?

Extra Bonus: If you're looking for a chance to do more work for past clients, contacting them to ask for a testimonial, or some other evidence of the benefits you've generated, may be your secret weapon in rekindling that relationship. 

One more note: sometimes customers have trouble describing their satisfaction, or quantifying the value you've created. Or maybe they're just too busy. Jump on this opportunity! Offer to write the testimonial for them, and say you’ll run it by them for their approval.

Then write something up that you’d like them to say about you. Try to write in their voice, from their point of view. Keep it simple and jargon-free; customers use different language than you do. Be concise. Use strong, upbeat and professional language that will show you and your client in a good light.  

Your contact will appreciate you doing the work for them, and will likely approve whatever text you show them. Confirm that you have permission to reprint this testimonial – and then stuff it into the front of your Proof Book.

 The Voice of the Customer is golden.

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

The Secret of Networking.

I belong to a pretty unremarkable online group on called "All About Networking."

The reason I call it "unremarkable" is that the members display very little interest in networking. And almost no curiosity about how to get better at it. 

People join the network, tell us about what they sell, and then forget they were there. If they do remember, they will probably just conclude that since no one offered to buy from them, networking doesn't work.

So I fired off a post to try to inspire them to aim higher.

And I want to share it with you, too.... 

I am seeing lots of people joining this group to network and learn more about networking.  

​So let's talk about successful networking.

​Networking isn't selling. It's not even prospecting. It's not about telling a group what you do and waiting for someone to call.

​Networking is about getting to know people. Not as prospects or customers, but as people. 

​If you want to sell, get a targeted list and craft an incredible offer for them.

If you want to network, demonstrate a genuine interest in other people and their welfare. 

Tell us more about you, not your product.

Tell us about your interests, travels or hobbies, and let people know you would enjoy sharing thoughts and experiences with like-minded people.

Or offer to help. How could your expertise (or interests) benefit others in this group?​​​ 

Either way, get some great conversations going. Ask lots of questions. Let other people shine.

You'll find yourself meeting cool, interesting people with infinite potential to enhance your life. 

Networking is so much cooler than selling. 

Bottom line: ​Before you "get", you have to give.

​Let people know you care about them, their problems, and helping them succeed.

​That's the secret of networking.