Accepting Criticism

I was asked by a reporter today what one skill I thought was most critical for business success. It was really hard to narrow it down to just one skill because a savvy business person needs lots of talents, skills and attributes. 

The skill I chose was the ability to accept criticism. And, this applies whether the person doing the critiquing is doing it in kindness or is rather “rough” in their comments to you. 

Merriam-Webster defines criticism as “the act of expressing disapproval and of noting the problems or faults of a person or thing”. 

The first thing we need to realize is that all of us have faults – none of us are perfect. And, I believe that most of us want to eliminate faults and continuously improve ourselves. However, we often have trouble hearing that someone doesn’t think we’re perfect. Our feelings can be hurt and we feel vulnerable or disliked. 

That’s the part we need to get over! Instead of allowing our feelings to be hurt and putting up a protective barrier, we need to practice hearing the words – the criticism. Once the words are heard and acknowledged, we then have the opportunity to evaluate whether they are true or just the verbal result of someone lashing out because they are wounded. 

If you come to the conclusion that the words have merit, thank that person for pointing out something that you can improve on and then develop a plan to do just that. If the words are the result of a wounded individual wanting to just make you feel bad, try to understand what’s going on with them. 

Ask them if you’ve doing something to upset them. I love that question because there are only two answers – yes or no. If yes, it gives you the opportunity to find out what you did that upset them and apologize. If the answer is no, it gives you the opportunity to reach out to that person and find out what’s going on. You may have the opportunity to offer kind words that may help them heal. 

We are not born knowing everything. Along the way we have been taught to crawl, walk, talk, read, dance, sing and many other things. Why do we think the learning should stop when we enter the business world? Make it a goal to continuously improve your skills and talents and be open to hearing criticisms that can help you become a better you! 

And, when you get really good at accepting criticism you didn’t ask for, you might consider actively asking for it – ask a few respected individuals for their thoughts on how you can improve.

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Online Storefronts

The emarketing dictionary defines an online storefront as a website that enables visitors to find, order and pay for products and services. If you are reading this blog, it is likely you have also ordered something online from or another retail website. Those are online storefronts.

Today’s consumers are pretty savvy about online shopping and familiar with how to place an item in a shopping cart, checkout and pay for their online purchases. Online storefronts make it easy to shop from the comfort of our homes.

However, online storefronts are a great tool for organizations who have multiple locations, a national sales force, sell through brokers, agents or manufacturer’s reps. An online storefront can house all of your marketing collateral, business stationery and promotional products. Our online storefront is called Connect and is a part of our Direct suite of tools.

Connect helps marketers protect their brand, while at the same time allows those ordering to customize with appropriate images and text, suitable for their targets or geographic region.

This system controls inventory, makes reports available 24/7, enables automatic re-ordering, list purchasing and even the ability to conduct a one-to-one direct mail or ecampaign right from the online storefront.

Some benefits of our online storefronts include:

  • Brand control and dealer/agent support
  • One-stop gateway for ordering all marketing collateral
  • Customized reporting and tracking capabilities
  • Streamlined operations to save time and money by reducing the cost of procurement
  • No server, software, or internal IT support required

If you think an online storefront may be helpful in your organization, we’re happy to provide a demo for you, so you can better judge it’s value.

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Data vs. Big Data

Delivering a positive ROI (Return on Investment) is the focus of every marketer. They are wrestling with integrating multiple marketing channels to deliver a marketing message that will spur purchases. And, marketers need to be able to not only gather useful data, but understand how to mine it and use it to generate that return on investment.

When we hear the term “Big Data”, the name itself can scare away small to mid-sized organizations. We hear questions like:

  • What does Big Data mean?
  • Do I currently have the ability to collect Big Data?
  • Once I have it, how do I effectively use Big Data?
  • Can my organization afford to gather and execute with Big Data?

What small to mid-sized organizations need to understand is that data is data. Lots of data is Big Data. In fact, Wikipedia defines Big Data as, “an all-encompassing term for any collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand data management tools or traditional data processing applications”.

But, do you really need Big Data, or is just having some data enough? I personally think just having some data is enough right now. After all, how many of us are effectively using the data we have? And, if we’re currently not using it effectively, why in the world would we need more?

It is most likely that you already have relevant data on your current clients. You know:

  • The company name
  • Your buyer(s) name(s)
  • Location
  • Vertical industry
  • Industry challenges
  • Current marketing challenges
  • What they purchase from you
  • How often they purchase
  • What they currently do not purchase from you

Just having that information is a lot of data that you can use in your marketing efforts. As for the information that you have on your prospects, if your sales team has done their homework, you will know:

  • Company name
  • Buyer(s) name(s)
  • Location
  • Vertical industry
  • Industry challenges
  • What they currently do not purchase from you – which is everything because they are not yet a customer.

Are you using the data you currently have to reach out to your targets with relevant and timely messages? For example, you know when a current client usually orders the widgets. So, consider sending them an offer on a complementary product that will enhance the widgets they currently purchase, and that can ship with the widgets, saving them on shipping costs. That’s called cross-selling!

By personalizing your marketing communications, offline or online, you are telling your targets that you know them – that you’ve paid attention to their business within your organization. That you value them. And, who doesn’t want to be valued?

Also, consider that every interaction with a client or prospect should result in additional useful data. Make sure your sales team understands the type of data that the marketing team needs to develop relevant, personalized and timely offers. Once the sales team understands that Marketing is bringing them additional business or warm leads based upon that data-driven communication, they’ll be more than happy to share information.

We all want to “see” ourselves in the marketing messages that we receive. Think how you can use the data you currently have to help your clients and prospects “see” themselves in your marketing and be open to building that relationship with your organization. If you’re going about your data collection in the right way, you will have lots of useful data to draw from. Just having Big Data is useless unless we understand the basics of what using data correctly can do for our revenue stream!

Visit our Resource Center to download “Data And Its Uses”.

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Relevant Marketing

While preparing for our February Ideas In Motion Seminar on “Ethnic and Gender Marketing”, I came across a statement regarding marketing to different ethnic groups. The statement was that “Members of ethnic groups want to feel that the organization, marketing to them, actually knows what they want and how they want to be communicated with.”

I found that statement interesting because I don’t believe that the statement is reserved for ethnic group members. Don’t we all want to do business with people and organizations that make us feel welcome. That welcoming touch can be as simple as a smile and a “hello” when you enter a retail store. Or, it could be a thank you for purchasing a computer and offering the schedule for computer training classes.

What I don’t believe any of us want is that marketing piece that offers us a great deal on a product that we just happened to purchase from that company last month. Don’t they know we bought that from them? That type of marketing makes us feel that the company doesn’t know us and doesn’t care to know us.

Some of us prefer to receive marketing messages and offers via email, instead of direct mail. So,  it shouldn’t be  too much to expect that once we make that preference known, our offers should come to our inbox.

I have a credit card with a national retailer, that I use on a regular basis, to take advantage of their special offers and discounts. This organization knows me. All they have to do is look at my purchase history and see that I buy women’s clothing, shoes, handbags, jewelry and children’s clothing. I don’t believe I’ve ever purchased menswear. I wonder how much they could save by eliminating 4-8 pages out of their monthly mailer by NOT advertising menswear to me. That is not only knowing your customer, but using your marketing dollars wisely.

Say hello to direct!

direct logo

Our direct suite of tools helps our clients do just that. The tools can help you define client preferences and then track them across multiple campaigns to see which touch they respond to, which channel they respond to and respond in, identify cross sell and upsell opportunities. Our focus is in helping our clients truly know their targets so they can relevantly and personally market their products and services. This should result in higher response and conversion rates, increased revenue and hopefully increased profits.

Technology makes all of this possible today. Companies that you do business with have lots of data about you, what you like, what you buy and what channels you purchase through. Since we know that organizations have this data, we are dumbfounded when they don’t use it to approach us in a way that shows us that they know us. This type of marketing is not just for ethnic  or gender groups, but for all clients.  And, it’s a smart way to get the most out of your marketing budget!

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Goals Are Good!

For those of you who are business owners, supervisors or managers, it is likely that those who report to you are required to set goals for the new year. If you don’t require them to provide their goals, or work with them to develop their goals, it can be difficult to manage your staff. How will they know what you expect? How will they know if they are succeeding or need to make adjustments?

For those of you who report to business owners, supervisors or managers, you may groan loudly when asked to either provide your goals for the year, or sit with those you report to and develop your goals together. Why? These goals can indicate, to those to whom you report, your value to the organization.

We all seem to dread the goal setting part of business and I wonder why. Goals are important and, if realistically set, can be very motivating. Setting goals is similar to planning out a vacation. You would want to know your vacation budget, mode of transportation, have maps, translation guides (for foreign travel), hotel reservations and proper wardrobe. Most of us don’t set off on a vacation without a plan. Goals are simply a plan.

Since I work primarily with our sales team, I’m going to focus on the sales process. If you are a sales representative you should consider the following when setting goals:

  • How much do you expect to sell this year? Is it an increase over last year? If not, why not? Planning to stay the same or do less is a backward movement and decreases your value.
  • Are there new products and services, that the company offers, that you need to know more about? What is your plan to attain that information?
  • Do you attend networking events? If so, are they the same ones your customers and prospects attend? If not, don’t waste your time.
  • Is your wardrobe appropriate? Dressing at a level lower than those you seek to serve is a mistake. You are a professional and should look like one at all times. Stained shirts, wrinkled clothing and scuffed shoes are not a sign of a successful person. People want to deal with successful people.
  • How are your communication skills? Can you confidently make a presentation? Are your letters and emails well-written and grammatically correct? Does your voice portray confidence when leaving a voice mail message? If not, can you improve those skills on your own, or do you need additional training?
  • What do you know about your target audience? After all, it’s your responsibility to help your customers meet their goals. If you don’t understand their business then how can you help them?
  • How can you help your company succeed? Are you a team player? Do you raise people up by how you treat them, or do you swagger through the office and make sure everyone knows that it’s your sales efforts that keep them in food? You need your co-workers as much as they need you – show appreciation for their support of your efforts.
  • Are you a valuable conduit between your customer and your company? It’s your job to represent your customer at the office and the office to the customer. Don’t badmouth either!

January is a fresh slate. Take some time to develop goals, even if your organization doesn’t require you to develop them. They can help keep you on track, insure continuous improvement and focused on attaining success!

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What’s New For You In 2015?

Well, it’s another New Year and the time for making new resolutions. Resolution is defined as a firm decision to do or not to do something. Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it?

Why then, do we continue to make the same resolutions year after year, yet fail to keep them? For example, I’m always going to “get healthy” – lose weight, build muscle, reduce my cholesterol. Yet, by Valentine’s Day, at the latest, I’m already attempting to justify why I need to eat the ears off the chocolate rabbit. What’s even worse is that I don’t particularly like chocolate.

According to researcher, John Norcross and his colleagues, who published their findings in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, approximately 50% of the population makes resolutions each New Year. Among the top resolutions are weight loss, exercise, stopping smoking, better money management and debt reduction ( Yet, the majority of us are not successful in keeping our resolutions.

I think that the moment we draw that line in the sand and call something a resolution, something is triggered in our brains that causes all of our attention to be focused on what we aren’t going to do. We can’t have the dessert because we’re not going to eat sugar. We can’t sleep in because we have to exercise. We’re trying to motivate ourselves to do something positive, yet we view it in a negative light. 

Resolutions go “south” even when they’re not about diet or exercise. It could be improving your knowledge about a new technology, or going back to school to train for a new career. It could be taking piano lessons just because you always wanted to play the piano. Even fun resolutions are hard to keep.

Resolutions require change. We have to do something different than we’ve done in the past – and that can be difficult. We have to develop new routines, which may mean less time to “relax” or skipping Friday night out with our friends. But, I think this is why we fail to keep the resolutions. We are focused on changing our habits, but we haven’t changed our minds. We really don’t want to develop a new routine or give up Friday nights to reach a goal.

You may “wish” you could quit smoking, but you enjoy it so much that you really don’t “want” to quit smoking. That resolution will go nowhere because until we change our thinking, the chance of us changing our behaviors is pretty slim.

Some of us also set goals that are too big. We’re going to lose weight, quit smoking, find a new job, pay off our credit cards, and move to a new city all in the next 6 months. We have so many goals that it is unrealistic to expect we will accomplish them. Try setting just 1 or 2 goals instead so it isn’t overwhelming and it is realistic.

And, make those goals specific. State that you are going to lose a specific number of pounds in a specific number of months. Or, you’re going to start taking a class one night a week for the next semester. That way you have a shorter term goal that may be easier for you to hit.

As for me, I’m going to change my thinking. My mantra this year will be – I love broccoli and Brussel sprouts! Happy New Year!

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‘Tis the Season . . .

I don’t know about you, but when Christmas decorations began appearing in the stores during October, I figured I would be in Christmas overload by now. But, no, I’m still feeling the spirit. Or, as a colleague asked yesterday, “is the bell still ringing for you?”

His question was taken from “The Polar Express” and the exact phrase is as follows.

At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.”

Even as an adult, this season holds so much meaning for me. My personal belief is that Jesus Christ was born today, which makes the day really important. But, even if you don’t hold the same belief, the Christmas season seems to be magical.

Maybe it’s the decorations, lights, tree, brightly wrapped gifts, holiday dinners with family and friends or Santa Claus sitting patiently while children are plopped in his lap to divulge their deepest desires.

Maybe it’s the smell of Christmas cookies baking or a kiss snuck under the mistletoe. Or, it could be the opportunity to ring the bell for others less fortunate that are supported by The Salvation Army. Christmas carols, the smell of pine needles and for those of us further north, the beauty of snow-covered trees and hillsides.

Candle-lit church services, velvet dresses and patent leather shoes, a red silk scarf wrapped around your neck or the opportunity to watch an old Christmas movie all evoke feelings of joy.

A friend was so excited earlier this week because the person in line ahead of him at Starbuck’s generously paid for his coffee. People seem to be more generous this time of year. No matter how little we may have, we realize that we have more than many around us. It’s a season of hope and a season of believing.

You may not share my religious beliefs, or believe that there really is a Santa, but I’m hoping that you are feeling the magic. This season makes me believe in people and in a better future. Maybe it’s because New Years is coming, which is a time of reflection and resolutions – a time for a new beginning.

Whatever the reason, I love this season! Yes, the bell still rings for me and my hope is that it still rings for you! I wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, or Happy Kwanzaa.  May you be surrounded by love, peace and joy during this season!

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