Thursday, August 11, 2011

From the world of mega advertising to the perspective of a small business owner – some principles just stay the same.

by: Michael Steele

My career has privileged me to work on major brands domestically and internationally in high level executive marketing positions. From the banking to beverage industries, I’ve developed or help develop major marketing communications campaigns that have stood the test of time – both good and bad.

Interestingly, my experiences have taught me that there are core principles in business that stay the same no matter the industry or size of the business. I now own an advertising agency, Advantage Communications, that specializes in consumer marketing. I find the core principles of my corporate career have become the foundation of my career as an agency principal.

Lesson 1: Fact-based Decision Making.
As part of the mission of Advantage Communications, we are fact-based decision makers and we market the fact that we do not guess with our client resources..simply get the facts and allow the data and good judgment to pave the way. We believe that every campaign we develop must be founded in sound, proven research – not just passionate ideas of what would “look good”. Fact-based decision making is a principle I learned early in my career. I remember being in a meeting at The Coca-Cola Company and watching a hot-headed whippersnapper have his ego handed back to him after making a passionate presentation based on his thoughts and ideas and very little factual information.

Lesson 2: Shareholder Value.
Every day at Advantage Communications, I teach our team that the most important service we can provide is to make our clients goals and objectives – our goals and objectives. This may sound cliché, but the most successful campaigns can die if they deliver the WRONG results. Imagine if your client had a goal to support a new product launch and you delivered added value against one of their already established brands. Successful yes- but not the right kind of success and you are equally fired. To this experience, Advantage Communications has built a history of successful client engagements by helping our clients meet THEIR goals and objectives. While we believe in innovation, the key is focus! Everything we do is about creating value for our clients. At Advantage Communications, we have developed a culture of value-driven marketing leaders. Focusing on our clients’ business objectives allows us to grow with our clients. We seek out small brand, long-term relationships, and below-the-line opportunities with major corporations.

Lesson 3: First thing about creative – it better work!
Creative boils down to 20% of what agencies do and 80% of our reputation in an industry that is under fire. Advertising is critical to the success of most consumer brands… but marketers must understand the purpose. Most of my clients today are building brand awareness and preference.

Not all brands need to advertise for awareness. At the Coca-Cola Company we didn’t advertise for awareness, but rather our goal was simply convert and retain users faster than the guys in blue. In most marketing organizations only one metric stands above all – intent to purchase.

Lesson 4: Track and measure results.
If you are in the ad agency business, you understand the key to retaining clients is effective tracking of results of your campaign. At Advantage Communications, we have one simple rule – If you can’t measure it, don’t do it.

Everything I did as a CMO was focused on ROI. Which marketing and public relations campaigns I launched were all dependent on one key pillar – what is the ROI and how do I prove it? This has become a necessary discipline – one that has allowed me to steer clear of the urge to approve creative because it is impressive or launch a campaign because it is innovative. My comrades learned early on – it better have a trackable, measurable, significant ROI. After all, as CMO it was my accountability to increase sales for the company.

Lesson 5: Planning, planning, and planning.
There is an art to planning and a discipline to follow the plan. Many people can plan, and very well, I might add. But the discipline comes in revisiting the plan, following up on deliverables, tracking results – all details that let you know if your plan is delivering the ROI it promised. Learning to become an effective planner has given me a competitive advantage.

I am amazed at the number of young smart talents that do not understand the importance of planning. Many will successfully get through business school, yet and fail to understand the key to any business is planning and execution. If you are not part of your clients planning process, you are under-funded and likely to fail. Planning is essential to being a partner with your client. No plan, no partnership.

This disciplined approach to planning is also evident at Advantage Communications. My team understands all to well that they should know their clients’ marketing plans inside and out. They also know that planning is continuous.

What key lessons have you learned in your experience?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Keys to Strategic Selling

Do you really want to know how to approach a prospect without running them off? We have developed a prospecting process that we’ve defined to near perfection!

Initial Prospecting
Initial prospecting begins by first establishing a goal and strategy for your efforts. Ask yourself:
   •  What would I like to accomplish?
   •  How do I plan to accomplish it?
   •  Why is this the best time to do so?
After doing so, identify prospective clients/customers that appear to fall somewhere within the parameters of your goal and strategy. 

“Weeding them Down”
Once you’ve identified potential prospects, you must scrub your list to define those that hold the greatest potential opportunity for you. We would all like to go after every opportunity. However, strategy is key to success!

Research Business (In and Out)
At Advantage Communications, Inc., we pride ourselves in being fact-based decision makers. We allow our research to dictate our every action. When preparing to approach a new business opportunity, you must do your homework first. You bring no value if you don’t understand the prospect’s business before they tell you! 

Assessing the Opportunity
This is simply weighing your pros and cons of the opportunity. What is the likeliness that the opportunity will pan out and how many resources do you have to utilize for it to do so? 

Once you’ve done all of the necessary homework, you should be ready to place that first call. I always encourage dry runs, of course! One should not be afraid to ask questions at this point. The key? Ask SMART questions. 

Develop Value Proposition
Ask yourself: If I were the prospect, why would I do business with me? You must be able to answer this question before you prepare to pitch your business to the prospect. This is what we call your “value proposition.” Essentially, the prospect’s objectives must become your objectives. 

SHOWTIME: The Pitch!
Whenever we walk into a room with a current or prospective client, it’s show time. Preparation is the key. If you know the prospect’s objective and you understand how to achieve it, you should be ready. 

Conversion is one of the most difficult stages of prospecting. You do not want to annoy the prospect but persistence is definitely important. You must find out the prospect’s sweet and “ticky” spots. Play to this understanding to allow your organization to remain top of mind. If there is not a current need for your service, do not let them forget about you –EVER. 

Retention and Expansion 
So you received a yes. You’re not finished! Smart marketers and business people always develop a retention plan. Beyond retention, growth is a necessity. If you can’t grow the client’s business, of what value are you?


An excerpt from 
A presentation by Michael Steele, President & CEO of Advantage Communications, Inc.
To view the full presentation CLICK HERE