I’m a senior marketing manager. So why did I take a part-time job at the front desk of a massage studio?

LinkedIn-Massage“Gambling debts” might occur to you as an answer to this question. Actually, money has little to do with why I worked for over a year checking in clients at Skin To Soul, a massage and Myofascial Release studio located in Woburn, MA.

In 2011, Gwyn Thakur and I led a panel for Boston’s HubSpot User Group called “From Intern To CMO.” Five local CMO’s gave their advice to early-career marketers on how to grow their career. Mike Feinstein and Dino Cattaneo both said: “If you want to be a leader in marketing, you need to work in sales for at least a while.”

As the former head of a graphic design agency, of course I have sales experience. Hwever, I wasn’t using a CRM or any method of systematic selling — and truth be told, I didn’t think of myself as a salesperson. And if you’re a mid-career marketer in an organization where marketing and sales report up different lines, it’s hard to make a case to your managers to let you try your hand at sales. You could change careers, but hey — I really like my marketing job.

At Skin To Soul, owner Nicole Russo needed someone behind the front desk who could work the studio’s CRM (yes, Mind Body is a CRM) and look for opportunities to help us grow our relationships with clients. In fact, the position was titled “Inside Sales.” Perfect! My job involved helping manage all aspects of our relationships with clients. Here are a few things I learned:

  • Yes, sales is HARD. As a marketer, of course you have deadline pressures; but you can also sometimes work in your pajamas. If you are customer-facing, you are always “on.” At Skin To Soul, our clients’ healing experience starts the first time they contact us; in sales, you are ultimately responsible for guiding your customers’ experience. If you’re a marketer, having empathy for your sales team will greatly improve your relationships with them.
  • “Up-sell” is NOT a dirty word – as long as you sincerely believe in the value of what you’re selling. Product marketers take note — your first customer is your sales team.
  • The OFFER matters. Most healing practitioners have incentives for membership, multiple appointments, etc. that offer real value to their customers. Although my shyness made it difficult to speak to clients about our offers, clients found it easy to accept them because they were good offers.
  • Having a SYSTEM makes your next conversation easy. Often I would write a note on a client’s next appointment such as “Remember to say thank-you for allowing us to reschedule their last visit.” If you’re a marketer, the description on the leads that come into your CRM can guide your sales team on their next conversation with the customer. There’s nothing that paralyzes a sales manager like a lead with no reason.
  • You’ve got to ASK FOR THE SALE. My friends and colleagues don’t believe it, but I’m rather shy. Asking someone if they would like to join our membership program was really difficult for me at first. It got easier as I realized our clients enjoyed speaking with me. I was able to develop a fun “script” for myself, and realized that in most cases the worst thing that can happen is you don’t get the sale (which is exactly the same thing that happens if you don’t ask for the sale). Nicole said I was a “natural.” As a marketer, you should be thinking about steps along the customer journey where you (or your sales team) can “ask for the sale.”

I ended my employment at Skin To Soul last week, having learned and contributed everything I could for the time being . . . but I can’t end this blog post without sincerely recommending Skin To Soul to anyone who needs (or wants) bodywork. Learn more or book your first session here: Skin To Soul.

 

 

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“Net” is part of “networking”

networkFILE UNDER “You probably already knew this, but just in case…”

If workplaces are going to become more inclusive, it means not just hiring a diverse workforce, but making all people feel more welcome.

It follows that as individuals, it’s a good idea to expand our networks to include people from different ethnic or religious backgrounds, different walks of life, different generations. This not only enriches our ability to contribute to a vibrant business environment, but in fact it enriches our lives beyond measure.

Expanding our networks is hard, especially if we’ve never done it in a strategic way. It requires us to step out of our comfort zone.

Here’s where I always got stuck: I would make one friend from an unfamiliar group and then feel sort of desperate, as if I had to immediately feel as at home with them as I did with my own family, or with my best friend who grew up less than two miles from where I lived. If my new friend was looking for a new job or house, I felt it was my responsibility to connect them with people who could lead them to that next opportunity.

This all feels shameful and ugly to admit. The twin assumptions that weighed me down were first, that my resources were somehow “better” than their resources, and second, that I was their only point of connection to the networks of white privilege. In many cases, I would fail to think about what I could learn and gain from their culture, their community, or their approach.

Recently I attended a workshop led by Juliette C. Mayers, one of New England’s leading diversity / inspiration consultants. Called “Building Inclusive Networks,” the workshop not only instructed participants in the art of expanding networks, but also provided us with a day-long experience of how it feels to be part of a vibrant, multi-cultural and multi-generational network of business leaders.

On a personal level, this workshop exposed and exploded my assumptions about networking. I learned that even at the highest levels of business, people of color often have real difficulty connecting to the dominant culture. Giving minorities, women, younger and older people a “seat at the table” is not enough – we must invite everyone to speak and protect their right to be heard.

I learned that there is so much value in all networks, not just privileged white networks, that we can only unlock by being part of those networks. I learned about the value of “showing up,” which could probably be the subject of an entire book.

I also learned that the value in networks comes from their many connection points. Just as a mesh is stronger than a single thread and a bridge is held up by many cables, the strength of your network is not in you alone, and the strength of my network is not in me alone. Sure, I might end up personally connecting one or two people to their next great job – or I might find my next great friend or great experience through one person in my network.

But the point of a network is strength through multiplicity, through cooperation, and through connection. That’s why the first word is “net.” Duh.

Here Come the Vegans

hand-with-grainsIf you Google “vegan Thanksgiving,” the top hits (underneath the German ad for vegan chocolate truffles) are mostly recipes, and one article about how to survive Thanksgiving as a vegan.

How do you plan a Thanksgiving dinner for a mixed crowd? This article is for the cook who was getting ready to serve up a traditional Thanskgiving meal with turkey, gravy, lard-laced pie crust, etc. – only to realize that one or more of your guests only eats plants. There are a few different approaches you can take, ranging from “let them eat side dishes” to creating a completely vegan Thanksgiving experience.

We now have 3 1/2 vegans in our family and a few turkey stalwarts, so we’re doing a hybrid meal, with the turkey as the centerpiece but everything else vegan.

Here are the tricks I’ve got up my sleeve this year.

Dressing outside of the bird. I’ll stuff the turkey with a few peeled oranges to contribute moisture, and cook a cornbread dressing outside of the bird. (To make vegan cornbread, you can can take any cornbread mix or recipe and substitute flax eggs and vegetable oil for the eggs and butter).

Amped-up sides. We normally serve cranberry jelly right out of the can, but this year I made cranberry sauce. It took 20 minutes – throw 12 ounces of cranberries, 1/3 cup of orange juice, and 1/3 cup of maple syrup into a pot and cook until the cranberries stop popping. (Pro Tip: Many vegans don’t eat honey). We’re also planning to serve a roasted mixture of Brussels sprouts and squash cubes, and fresh pearl onions topped with a cashew-based cream sauce.

Make-ahead gravy. No more stress (everyone’s milling around and hungry, I’m doing something I only do once a year, with my mother shouting “The roux looks ready!” over my shoulder. Then I triumphantly carry in a gravy boat full of overly thin gravy, gravy that tastes like library paste, or perfect gravy but not enough of it . . . by this time the peas and potatoes are cold . . . .). This year it’s mushroom gravy, which I can make the night before.

Love and respect. Differences in diet are often threatening. Remember that your vegan guests are managing their diets 24/7, and you are only dealing with it this one day. Don’t make a fuss about whatever you’ve done to accommodate them. Ask them why they decided to become vegan, what challenges they’ve had, and what they most enjoy about it. They’re at your table because they love you.

So You Think You’re Not A Salesperson? (For Every Small Business Owner, Ever)

If you own your own business, there’s a good chance you got into it because you love doing the job. But how do you define “doing the job”? Are you a graphic designer who loves to spend hours making sure there’s a cool underlying grid to your work? (Guilty.) Are you a baker whose passion is making the ganache come out just right? Or an accountant who sees the beauty in a spreadsheet with no question marks? Congratulations — you are great at executing, once you’ve made the sale.

I’m sure you know that a business owner is also a bookkeeper, a strategist, an advertiser, an HR person, a janitor, and a salesperson as well. Perhaps you just don’t spend much time thinking about each of these roles, or perhaps you wait until someone is standing in front of your cash register with a wallet before you think of yourself as a “salesperson.” That was me, for sure. I never did things like ask for a referral or “ask for the sale” or push for a “no.” I just went by instinct. The problem was, I was never going to grow my business unless I spent some time actually selling. If you’re in that situation, here are a few hints to get started.

A good salesperson has a good system

In any of my customer-facing roles, I’ve learned that you need a plan for each interaction. If you have a meeting with a customer, you should know ahead of time what you might have to offer the customer, and make sure you offer it. If you don’t know, then the meeting should be aimed at discovering what the customer needs and whether you can help the customer.

In a lengthy, complex sales process, this could be a systematic “steps of sale” plan that you follow with each customer. A simpler sales process occurs every time you’re in a restaurant and the server offers you the dessert menu. The main thing is not to forget it! If you’re in a complex sales process that has a next step, schedule the next step in your calendar or CRM system. If your shoe store has a special on socks, put a picture of socks next to the cash register so the check-out person remembers to offer them. Train yourself to say “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

Get rid of things that keep you or your people from getting paid

Last time I got a haircut, the salon owner told me that I couldn’t put a tip on my credit card. The haircut was $150. Did I have $30 in my wallet? That salon owner needs to fix his system immediately so his people can get paid.

Don’t abuse your customers’ trust — A tale of two chiropractors

A long time ago, I hurt my back and went to a chiropractor. Soon I was having sessions three times a week, because that was the chiropractor’s recommended practice. The next time, I ended up going to a different chiropractor. “When should I come back?” I asked on my way out. “Come back if your back hurts,” was his answer.

Guess which chiropractor got my business the next time?

Don’t sell people things they don’t need. If they ask you for your recommendation, honor it as a sign of trust. Don’t do things to your customers that would make you mad if someone did them to your mother.

Don’t over-rehearse or beat yourself up

Many selling situations can feel awkward or even combative. If a customer is “just browsing” in a retail store, they might not want to be asked, “May I help you?” In a complex B to B selling process, you might feel as if you’re in a battle with the customer’s reluctance (or the customer’s boss or budget situation). You won’t always succeed, and if you over-rehearse a conversation, you’ll get nervous. Accept that only a percentage of conversations will have a favorable outcome. Just set your intention ahead of time and do your best.

Don’t fail to sell

Sales should never be about selling people things they don’t want or need. If you believe in what you’re selling, you are actually hurting your customers if you fail to sell. Think of buying from you as the first step in your customer’s journey towards a better life — and sell with honor and joy.

 

Is Your Customer Your Hero?

IMG_1540
Do you admire your customers? Years ago, I was visiting a friend who owned a small business. Our conversation was interrupted by a customer. After the customer left, my friend muttered under his breath: “Cheapskate.”

Many of my friend’s customers were looking for a bargain – in fact, his business marketed itself as friendly to bargain-hunters – and yet, at bottom, my friend didn’t like working with his customers.

I recently had a chance to visit Finland, where I produced* a video showing how one of our company’s customers is bringing clean energy to the north of Finland. I’m a fan of renewable energy, but my heroes are the people who are building and operating wind parks.

Our customer treated me like family during the long day of work on the video. One of the technicians told me proudly about his wife, who also works in the wind industry. They took me on an elevator ride up to the top of one of their wind turbines (the turbine is so tall that it took around 5 minutes to get to the top!)

I don’t know if there is any quantitative evidence connecting success with admiring your customers. Certainly I didn’t have to pretend to be enthusiastic – it came across as sincere because it is. The most successful business owners I know treat their customers like kings and queens because that’s how they view them.

Are you honored to be helping your customers achieve their goals? Is your customer your hero?

*By “produced” I mean: I hired the production company that did most of the great work, and generally got in their way while they were filming.

The Power of Kind Words

Do you ever find yourself scanning subject lines of YOUR OWN emails so you can remember what you told someone else? Yeah, me too.

Today I was looking for information I’d given to one of our best vendors. A scan of the subject lines pulled up things like “YOU GUYS ROCK,” “LIKING IT,” “ALL GOOD SO FAR,” and my favorite: “AWESOME!”

Obviously I’ve been lavish with praise to this vendor (who richly deserves it). During a complex project, I also took time to reassure him – IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS – that things are going well.

And you know what? This vendor always goes overboard for me – cutting prices when he knows my budget is tight, doing extra work to make jobs perfect, and sometimes throwing in extra services that haven’t been asked for. Once, he even sent someone to Paris on his own dime to help me supervise a complicated project, because he knew it was my first time doing so.

A lot of us try to “Beat the Vendor” – always asking for more work, faster deadlines, a better price. Doubtless this approach can be effective.

But I like the “kind words” approach better. What about you?

Naming Your Business for SEO

Today, someone asked me: “Is the name of my business important for SEO?”
Increasingly, search engines are being designed to try to think the way humans would. They want a search to bring up answers that would be relevant to a person searching. (Otherwise, no one would use search engines).
So, if you name your business something that would make sense to a person, you should do fine with search engines. At the same time, you don’t want the company to sound like one of those names you see painted on the side of a dirty white panel truck.
Here’s a fictional example to illustrate – Three women are opening a music store and they decide that they want to call it “Harmony Stones.” It’s evocative, it has a musical term in the title, and the word “Stones” brings up all sorts of cool, musical, cultural connotations. The only problem is, the name is so nonspecific that it could be a music store, a spa, a rock band, or any other of a number of businesses. Neither Google nor a person would know that this business is a music store.
They settle on “HS Music Store” but now the name is so unmemorable that people end up calling it “the music store across from the donut place, no the big one, but the small one.”  A good compromise would be something like “H. Stones Music,” “Harmony Musical Gear,” or something similar.