What a Contractor is Teaching me About Great Customer Service

  • Posted on November 30, 2011
  • by John Scranton

Whenever I have a commercial interaction, I try to glean a few insights into why it was enjoyable or why it was annoying.  My most recent endeavor has been the engagement of a contractor to make some home improvements.  As my wife and I researched vendors we heard many horror stories of dishonest contractors delivering a shoddy product or poor customer service.  So far the product appears to speak for itself, and I have noticed a few things that make the service superior:

  1. They Never Bother Me – Working virtually, I am in the same building, so it would be easy for the contractors to interrupt me to ask questions or review specifications.  They never do.  The only interactions I have with them are on my terms.  Imagine if this was the case on a car lot?  How can you avoid bothering your clients?
  2. They Deliver a Little Extra – One of the contractors noticed the felt pads on the feet of some of my kitchen chairs had worn off.  Replacing them will require a $5 purchase and 10 minutes of labor.  This is an infinitesimal task relative to the project scope, but it makes my life just a little easier at no additional charge.  What extra value can you deliver to your clients?
  3. They Simplify Billing – We only meet once per week to talk about money.  On Fridays I pay for what has been completed and they tell me what will be completed the following week and what the cost will be.  There are no surprises.  This relieves any anxiety I might have about the financial plan for the project.  What are your clients prospects worried about?
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Prospect Identification

Who do you wish to sell to?  Who are able to sell to?  Who will be profitable to sell to?  Why will they buy from you instead of your competition?  These are all questions you must answer accurately before entering any business.  If you cannot come up with good answers, you might want to consider a different product/service/solution.

Begin by identifying your ideal client.  If you are P&C commercial agent, this might be a manufacturer with 50 employees or a contractor with $5,000,000 in revenue.  A life agent might seek households with at least $150,000 in total income or couples nearing the retirement stage.  Lastly a general agency might prefer to try selling everything to everybody.

So how crowded is your space?  If there room for you?  Does your value proposition create room for you in that marketplace?  Perform a careful analysis, because I personally know dozens of agents who would love to write that 50 person manufacturing business.  Many of them have deep and unique expertise and access to a vast array of markets – you must be able to explain why you deserve the business instead.

I suggest you seek a unique niche.  Start a program or find an area of specialization.  If you have a great opportunity to compete for the above manufacturer – quote it.  But if there will be significant competition that provides markets or services you do not, pass it up and invest your time in what you know you can do better than anyone else.

Your specialty could be a vertical, like restaurants or auto repair.  Or a horizontal, like benefits programs for businesses with 10 to 20 employees.  Or a line of coverage, such as worker’s compensation or professional liability.  How many agents in your market are a true expert in D&O?  Likely not nearly as many as those who want to compete for the manufacturer.

For example, my company provides marketing services.  We could sell to anyone, but I know that we can do a better job helping a $10 million dollar insurance agency sell benefits programs than we can helping Apple sell iPhones.  So I make my outbound calls to agency owners, not Steve Jobs.  This is one of our key verticals, and there is plenty of room in the space for our deep expertise, unique web marketing focus and compelling value proposition.

Prospect List Generation

Now that we have decided who we would most like to sell to, how do we find them?  Begin my acquiring quality prospect lists.  This can be accomplished online without a great deal of effort.  Although, there are challenges and pitfalls, so be careful when you make your selection.

There are many, many providers of lists that can be found on the web.  They will provide data in all shapes and size, and of varying quality.  Find a source that can offer you the detail you need in a convenient format, like an Excel spreadsheet.  Fields like first name, last name, phone number and email sound like obvious items to include, but some low-cost or low-quality vendors will not have all fields populated or will lump all the data into a single field – making an upload to your CRM or email engine impossible.

Seek a reputable vendor that will provide you with a sample of the list you will procure.  Make sure you they have all the information you need (employees, revenue, industry could be necessities to some agents and useless to others).  Also confirm the list count prior to  engaging with a vendor.  When we enter a new vertical target market, I like to start with around 5,000 contacts that have email addresses.  Buying 500 would not create enough opportunity, and buying 50,000 would be wasteful as that is a far greater number than I currently wish to prospect (as a boutique shop we seek steady and incremental growth).

For a young business, purchasing a prospect list is critical.  You have limited resources and need to begin hitting your targets immediately.  Find a vendor or a marketing professional who will consult with you and make certain your investment is not wasted.  A client once told me he purchased 30,000 prospect emails for a significant sum of money.  These led to no opportunity – only SPAM trouble.  Do not make the same mistake.

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Go Virtual And Stay Profitable

Great blog entry from our CEO today regarding virtual business.  Enjoy!

Perhaps you’re considering creating a business or expanding a current business. As with many businesses, investing in inventory, product development or warehouse space might seem requisite. And perhaps this appears to be a reasonable or even logical approach, borrowing the famous quote from Field of Dreams, “if you build it, they will come.” After all, your simple business plan projects profits after only a modest startup period. My advice is to think about this again. When creating a new business, it’s highly advantageous to operate in a way that is both conducive to a flexible lifestyle while mitigating downside risk, including ramp up time or significant upfront investment.

  1. A short path to the money (limited ramp-up or development time)
  2. No upfront capital
  3. Customer deposits in advance of delivery
  4. Contractor based assistance for delivery
  5. Niche marketing opportunity (it’s much easier to target a vertical than a horizontal)

For the full blog entry, please visit: http://startupselling.com/blogs/alanblume/top-5-tips-when-creating-a-virtual-business/

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Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Posted on January 24, 2011
  • by John Scranton

Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Steelers.  They are headed to the Super Bowl for the third time in six years – and a record tying eighth appearance.  I have been a Steelers fan since the early 90’s, suffering through Neil O’Donnell’s Super Bowl interceptions but now reaping the rewards of recent success.  I do not recall why I began cheering for the Steelers (cool uniforms maybe?), althoughI know why I continue to cheer for them today. 

The Steelers are an organization committed to their philosophy and dedicated to their core competencies and game plan.  The ownership drafts well and patiently develops players and coaches (they have only had three coaches in my lifetime).  They focus running the ball and stopping the run – not the most exciting aspects of the game, but aligned with their hard-working blue-collar roots.  This defense first style of play sacrifices the flair many other teams enjoy.

The rewards of this strategy have been clear: 6 Super Bowl victories (a record), 8 Super Bowl appearances (a record), and 15 AFC Championship game appearances (a record).  Arguably the most successful franchise in football history. 

So what can we learn from them?  That a long-term and forward-looking organizational plan will pay dividends.  That sticking to your core competencies and persevering will produce results over time.  And that defense wins championships.

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Bigger Isn’t Always Better

  • Posted on December 7, 2010
  • by John Scranton

At StartUpSelling, we are firm believers in the Small Giants philosophy: it is better to be a great company than a big company.  Therefore, we focus on developing cutting-edge customized solutions, delivering excellent customer service, and operating at maximum efficiency to create superior value for our clients.  We strive to achieve these goals, even at the expense of expansion.  Because, as mentioned above, we are much more interested in being great than big.

Whenever I come across another business that appears to be acting in the same capacity – whether purposefully or coincidentally – I take note.  On Friday night, I ate at an excellent restaurant in the Princeton, NJ area.  I won’t mention their name since I did not ask their permission – but those who have eaten there may be able to figure it out.  This is a small restaurant with maybe a dozen tables, that also operates a deli and bakery during the day.  Because they are small in size, they are extremely agile and flexible – allowing them to accommodate special requests.

On this particular visit, we reserved a table for 6 for sometime between 7:30 and 9 – depending on traffic.  They had no problem accepting this request.  One of our diners emailed the chef to see if he might have any veal or lamb on the menu.  He didn’t earlier in the week, but he had both on the menu by the time we arrived Friday.  The chef also included wine suggestions (its a bring-your-own establishment) in his email response.  The meal and the service were outstanding, and we did our best to compensate them accordingly with generous gratuity.

It is highly unlikely that a large restaurant would have been able to take our reservation without a specific time.  It is even less likely that a big establishment would customize their menu to include our favorite dishes.  At probably least likely that a highly talented chef would take the time to contact us with wine pairing suggestions well enough in advance that we would have time to locate the proper vintage.

Think about the adjectives I have use to describe this business: flexible, agile, accomodating, outstanding, excellent.  Plan your growth carefully, and consider which of these attributes you are willing to sacrifice when your company expands.  You may decide that you are not interested in simply growing for growths sake.

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Updated: 9 (Business) Things I am Thankful for This Year

  • Posted on November 23, 2010
  • by John Scranton
  • The Internet – Al Gore’s great invention has allowed us to build a great and profitable company from a series of virtual (home) offices.  Amazing technological progress.  Thanks Al!
  • GoToMeeting– I meet with clients, prospects and colleagues via GoToMeeting everyday.  Easy to use, effective and affordable.  Thank you Citrix!
  • LinkedIn– The social network of business has allowed me to consistently find prospects and clients via the web, for free.  I will repeat that because it is so important – for free!  Thanks LinkedIn!
  • WordPress– Simple and easy to use blog interface.  Attractive and professional blog templates.  And like our friends at LinkedIn, they provide this service at the low cost of free.  Thanks WordPress!
  • eMarketing– What if I told you that you can email your target prospects, then see who read, opened or clicked on the email?  Then you can call these interested parties and sell to them.  I do this every week, and our results have been impressive.  Thank you eMarketing!
  • Skype – You may be noticing a theme, but it appears I like things are have no cost.  I used to have a cell phone glued to my ear.  Now I have a comfortable headset that allows me to connect with people for free.  Thank you Skype!
  • SEO – Not only has SEO become a great source of new business, is has also become one of our most popular services.  Agencies find us as a result of our impressive SEO, and want to develop the same pervasive presence.  Thanks SEO!
  • The Knack – This book by Norm Brodsky with Bo Burlingham has become somewhat of a small business Bible for me to refer to and learn from.  I have read it twice this year, and reviewed chapters several times.  Candid and direct insights for small business people.  Thanks Norm!
  • My Pipeline – The best way to finish off the year is with a flurry of sales activity.  The best way to achieve this is with a vibrant, robust prospect pipeline.  I am fortunate to have a great pipeline to work with and great sources for new prospects.  Thanks Pipeline!

Happy Thanksgiving! 



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ePublishing – 3,350 views and counting

  • Posted on September 13, 2010
  • by Alan Blume

ePublishing or electronic publishing is one of the many new manifestations of the increasingly pervasive reach of the internet. Though many traditional publsihers may not like this new trend, another threat to established publishers, I for one am very impressed with the model. I’ve now published 50 articles on Ezine, one of the leading ePublishing sites on the net and have seen 3,350 viewers read these articles. Ezine does not allow self promotional articles, nor do they accept rants or raves. Articles must meet a long list of criteria to be published, from beneficial content to grammar and formatting.  Articles are published for free, Ezine earns their fees from PPC ads.

Sometimes the view results of my articles are surprising, for example my top three articles are:

Article Title/Views/Clicks/Click %/Votes/Date Posted

Should You Hire an Insurance Agency Producer Without an Insurance Agency Marketing Program? 352 27 7.7% Rating: Rating: Rating: Rating: Rating: 05/26/2010
Are the Days of Direct Mail Marketing Dead For Insurance Agencies? 301 39 13.0% Rating: Rating: Rating: Rating: Rating: 06/02/2010
How to “Insure” the Success of New Salespeople 242 19 7.9% Rating: Rating: Rating: Rating: rating: 4.5000 03/19/2010

Actually I thought my article on the Prospect Scorecard would be one of my most valuable and popular, however it is currently running in the middle of the pack for views to date. Note that the author interface shown above tracks click through rate (13% was the highest click through rate for these articles) and the number of stars people allocate for voting. I’ve found vertically oriented articles to offer the greatest pull for both me and my clients. StartUpSelling provides marketing services for any B2B company but we’ve found a vertical approach to be most effective for both our own marketing and ePublishing. We now post many articles on behalf of our clients in areas including: legal practices, insurance agents, consultants, training firms, software and technology companies. If you would like to read some of these articles click on the following link:  http://ezinearticles.com/?expert=Alan_Blume

To read more about virtual sales and marketing, read Your Virtual Success: www.yourvirtualsuccess.net or go to www.startupselling.com

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Webinar: Building your Insurance Agency Marketing Plan for 2011

  • Posted on September 6, 2010
  • by John Scranton

Webinar: Building your Insurance Agency Marketing Plan for 2011

   
 
Insurance Agency Marketing   
   
 

StartUpSelling, Inc.

 
Join us for this brief, complimentary web seminar. Our team of agency marketing experts will discuss how to build your Insurance Agency Marketing Plan for 2011. Agencies are faced with the difficult challenge of building an effective strategy with an often limited budget. Coupled with the changing face of marketing in our Web 2.0 society, drafting a plan is an immense challenge. We will discuss the the most efficent ways to invest your resources for maximum results. Topics include:* The importance of Social Media Marketing
* eMarketing & Web Seminars for Lead Generation
* Effective Website Design and SEO
* Branding and Collateral for a Web Centric Era
* Traditional Advertising and Marketing Tools
Title:   Webinar: Building your Insurance Agency Marketing Plan for 2011
Date:   Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Time:   12:00 PM – 12:30 PM EDT
After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.
Space is limited.
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:
https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/278100432

 

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Webinar: Marketing & Lead Generation for Trucking Agencies

  • Posted on August 25, 2010
  • by John Scranton

Join us for this brief, complimentary web seminar.  We will present marketing and lead generation tools and strategies specifically designed for agencies that target the transportation industry.  Our marketing experts will review case study results of telesales and web seminar campaigns that resulted in more than $300,000 in new commission revenue in 2010.  We will also show how website refinements, branding and search engine optimization will help your organization reach your target prospects.  Topics include:

* Telesales: Custom pitch development for transportation prospects
* Web Seminars: Leveraging your industry expertise to build your pipeline
* Website Design: Branding and content to connect with target risks
* SEO: Google Page 1 search results for trucking keywords

Wednesday September 1st at Noon ET: https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/129148073

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Validating Your Social Media Efforts

  • Posted on August 3, 2010
  • by John Scranton

I have seen many articles, blogs and other media floating around lately asking an important and relevant question: How can I measure the results of the investment (time, financial or both) I am making in social media? 

To me, the clearest way to answer is by determining how many of your closed sales originated through LinkedIn, Facebook, Blogs etc.  For some companies in certain industries, this statistic will be impressive.  For others, it will not. 

Example: I am willing to hypothesize that many people purchase a book after seeing a Facebook or LinkedIn post or Blog book review.  I am also willing to assume very few people buy a car because someone posts “The new Nissan Z is fast.”

So a corporate VP of Marketing is constantly trying to justify the time or money spent building their social media web.  Improving SEO, developing relevant content, posting Blog entries, Tweets and everything else required.  This can be a long path to bottom-line results.  Building brand awareness, conveying expertise, developing a following in your target market are all important.  But they all repay you over time, while you are spending your evenings blogging now.

So when something happens that validates your social media efforts with a real return, it can be very gratifying.  I can recall the first time a prospect called me because he saw my Blog post.  I can also recall the first time I closed a sale in which my initial prospect contact was via LinkedIn.  Today, a prospect asked to meet with us because he has seen the ideas my CEO and I have shared on LinkedIn, Ezine and our Blogs.

Mangage your investment in social media, but do not cut your losses before it starts to pay you real dividends.

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