Managing Internet Sales

One of the biggest challenges for any company that sells a product is protecting its trademark and MSRP online. It’s even worse when you sell through others, whether they are distributors or retailers (or both).

The best way to maintain the integrity and legitimacy of the brand is to implement a tight policy that specifically addresses how your trademark can and cannot be used and what leeway, if any, you will allow with respect to MSRP—even if it is really Manufacturers Required Retail Price.

Some issues to consider:

  • Is it OK for them to sell on third-party sites like eBay and Amazon?
  • What kind of sales and promotions will you allow them to run?
  • Where will you let them ship? (Continental U.S. only, internationally, etc.)
  • What words can they use for online ads?
  • Do you want them to advertise your product as “lowest price”?

And regardless of what your policy says, you have to be able to monitor and enforce it. And your customers have to know that you’re paying attention. Thank and compliment them on their compliance, and give then tough love when they break the rules.

This is your brand. Don’t let someone else hijack it.

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30 Seconds

Businesses live and die in 30 seconds. It’s not a lot of time. True, given certain circumstances, it can seem like forever. But in reality, when you have to make a point, 30 seconds is never long enough.

And for good reason.

I’ve written about the importance of concise, targeted statements, keeping your core message to no more than five to seven words. Talk about a challenge.

But if people can’t get it in that short a period of time, then you’re message is off.

So, about those 30 seconds. That about as much time, if you’re lucky, someone will give to you to hear what you have to say. Make the 30 seconds count. Ask yourself: what is the most important thing my ideal customer has to know about my product? Get the core statement down to less than seven words. Use the rest of your time to set it up in a meaningful way (not some of the idiocy and obscurity you see in most television commercials).

Story – punchline.

If you still have their attention, go for the next most important thing. And keep it going. At the very end, tie it up in a nice little bow.

It all starts with seven words and 30 seconds.

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Compensate for the Right Goals

Last week, there was a story on the news about a guy in Tucson who followed a speed camera van around and held a sign warning drivers the van was there. He reasoning was that there was insufficient notification to drivers that the van was there to catch them speeding. The van is a contract role for the police department, paid, most likely, per ticket issued or collected.

That is the problem.

Follow me on this. The ultimate goal should be speed abatement. In other words, the desired outcome needs to be a reduction in the number of people who speed in a given area. Compensating based on catching people doing something wrong, is going to drive the company to catch as many people as possible doing that thing wrong.

Turn it around and compensate the company for a reduction in speeding, then you will find far fewer people speeding. But doing it that way is much harder. First, you may have the wrong company/employee. Second, you may be taking the wrong approach to reach the desired outcome. Either way, it won’t be the simple way to devise the compensation. That is a guarantee.

When designing a variable compensation system (salary plus bonus, for example) be sure to understand what your desired ultimate outcome is, as well as, and this is critical, what it will take to achieve that outcome is the most desirable manner.

For instance, let’s say you have a sales goal in place. You could compensate based on the employee reaching a certain number. Then their objective is simply hitting that number, doing whatever it takes. On the other hand, you can identify the key steps in the sales process that best match your brand promise and compensate based on the employee successfully achieving those steps, along with the desired overall results. If they do all the steps as they should, and the results don’t follow, you need to change the steps, not the desired outcome. Fix the steps, then start it up again.

In the end, you are going to get what you pay for. Just make sure you’re paying for the right thing.

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The Thing about Expectations

I’ve written before about expectations, especially managing them. But there is another side. For the greatest success, you must exceed whatever expectations exist.

Here’s the thing, once you meet, then exceed those expectations, you have now raised the bar. Created a new set of expectations. That you must now exceed.

It’s not very fair is it? But the point is to continuously improve. Because once you do it that one time, that’s it. You have to do it again. And again. And again. It is never-ending. As it should be.

Set the expectation. Manage it. Exceed it. Then start the process again. Keep moving up and improving.

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Making Something Different

I’m watching a repeat of the season premiere of Project Runway (yes, I am a fan). The challenge for the first week was to take grocery items and repurpose them into something fashionable. Many succeeded, while a few fell flat on their faces.

The most common error was taking an existing fabric—like a tablecloth or shower curtain—and converting it into a dress. Sadly, my young daughters do something similar without much thought.

The ones that proved better used unique materials to get to the same place. A few others added an artistic flair, bringing things up another notch.

Managing a brand is not much different. As Seth Godin likes to say, you have to do something remarkable, something akin to a purple cow. I recently had someone tell me that their “green gorilla” was their version of Godin’s cow. Yawn. It’s just another colored animal. That’s not creative. That’s lazy.

Do something no one else is doing in a way that no one else will. Be unique. And do it well.

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Walk the Talk

We’ve been interviewing a number of local PR agencies lately, and I have to say, for the most part, it has been a disappointing exercise. They talk and talk without truly understanding that this is the equivalent of a job interview, and we expect them to be at the top of their game. If someone is looking for a top-notch agency, have your act together and prove it. Let me give you some examples of what we’ve experienced:

  • “Our owners are heavily involved with all of our clients”—Really? They why aren’t they here? If you are going to talk about how involved the owners are, make sure they are there. And if that’s the case, they can tell us themselves.
  • “If you’re just looking for someone to write press releases, I can recommend some other people to do that”—Great! Who are they? Oh, you’re not going to actually tell me. Then don’t say it in the first place.
  • “We can throw somebody at [your project]”—I hope they don’t get hurt in the process. We are looking to hire an agency to support us, not writer’s pool looking to be hurled at the project du jour.
  • “We call you weekly or bi-weekly to give you updates and send you a monthly activity report, because we’ll get in trouble with the owners if we don’t”—Oh, I see. Not because it’s the right thing to do.
  • “We do media relations training”—Then why are you incapable of answering a basic question without stumbling through it and looking to someone else for help. If you train in media relations, pretend you are on the podium and in front of a camera.
  • “PRSA says you can measure ROI by taking the column inches in the publication (or the number of minutes on television), applying the equivalent ad value, and multiplying by three”—Um, no. That is your return on investment not mine. PRSA is an admirable association, but that is not a measurement of a client’s ROI. I measure my ROI by the actual benefit I receive from the PR activity—sales, number of new clients, registrations. If your activity cannot be associated with something truly measurable for the client, you cannot claim ROI. In other words, if their business doesn’t grow, you didn’t offer them a return. And that is OK, if growing the business isn’t an objective.
  • “Other agencies do…(whatever)”—I don’t care what other agencies do. I want to know what you do. I’m talking to other agencies, so I’ll judge for myself what they do. I don’t want to know what you have to say about other agencies unless you are speaking specifically about what a competitor does well that you admire or you are giving me a reason that you left that particular agency that is significantly different at your new one. Even then, be careful what you say.
  • “We told our client to do [this particular newsworthy event]”—We heard this from two different agencies. About the exact same thing. Yep, one was taking credit for the other’s work. I don’t know who was who. At that point, it didn’t matter, since both had several of the problems already mentioned.

Again, when you are pitching potential clients, it is a job interview. You have to be spot on your game. If your heart isn’t in it, if this isn’t the most important thing you are doing at that moment, don’t even bother to show up. It will be less embarrassing that way.

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Execution Matters

I was speaking recently with my CEO, and the conversation took a rather predictable turn. For the last several years, I have held firm to the belief that ideas, in and of themselves hold no value. The real value of an idea lies within your ability and willingness to execute.

And how you execute on an idea defines the success. In other words, excellent execution of a terrible idea can produce far superior outcomes than poor execution of a fantastic idea.

Sometimes, being able to guess how well you can execute proves elusive. The idea itself may be absolutely brilliant, so brilliant that you lose sight of how to execute. You get caught up in the rapture of the concept that you focus too little attention of really making it work.

At other times, people really just “phone in” the idea simply because it is easy to execute, and they don’t want to have to work that hard.

If we were talking in theatrical terms, these most likely would be considered comedies. The real tragedy, then, is having a terrific, game-changing idea and having no way of being able to execute on it. Maybe because you don’t have the expertise or the bandwidth or the basic ability to navigate regulatory waters. Whatever the reason, it is a great idea lost because you couldn’t make it work.

When you find yourself in that situation, and at some point you will, look around at who could help. Look for friends, family, associates, similar businesses that could partner with you to make your idea the revolutionary product it is capable of becoming.

Don’t just let it be another breakthrough that dies with that next round of drinks at the bar.

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