Insights from the Experts

Nobody has all of the answers, but if we know the right places to look and the right people to ask, we might find just the help we need to solve the challenges facing our operations.

You may be tempted to think you have all of the answers to the problems that most vex your operation. But the most successful entrepreneurs know a valuable secret: Sometimes, you have to ask for help.

If we know the right places to look, and we have a network of trusted advisors around us, it’s easy to find new ideas and perspectives that can challenge us to think of our operations in new ways.

Maybe you’re having trouble developing a strategic marketing plan or keeping up on social media. Maybe you’re looking for ways to improve your closing and customer retention rates. Or, perhaps you’re looking for ways to get more out of your employees by inspiring their best attributes.

In this issue of Northwest Business Magazine, we introduce you to some expert advisors who may have the answers you’re looking for. In the following pages, you’ll meet professionals at the local and national level who make their living advising and supporting entrepreneurs like you.

We begin with one of our organization’s reliable advisors: Susan Dobbe-Leahy, of Dobbe Marketing in Crystal Lake. A marketing expert who started with national corporations and now supports local businesses, she recognizes the difference an expert advisor can have on small businesses.

Then, we’ll introduce you to a few sales consultants and strategists who know about sales and account management. Here, they offer ideas on effectively closing sales and retaining your hard-earned customers.

You’ll also learn about the value of employee feedback – especially when it’s provided outside of the annual review. Learn why your employees care about feedback and how an effective system for providing it might help your team to harness talent in new ways.

This season, focus on the things you’re good at, and reflect on the areas where a new perspective can help you to succeed.

Susan Dobbe-Leahy

Small-Business Marketing Strategies: You Don’t Have to Go It Alone

By Susan Dobbe-Leahy, Dobbe Marketing & PR Inc.

Can you really do everything yourself?

Sure, there are YouTube videos to show you how to change a toilet pump. There are tutorials online for learning, well, pretty much everything! In your business, you possess certain areas of knowledge. If you value your time and are paid for a skill or talent, I recommend hiring a professional for everything else.

Years of experience in corporate marketing encouraged me to break out on my own as an entrepreneurial marketing consultant. Marketing was my education and experience, and I had excellent examples of my achievement.

What I lacked was expertise in accounting, legal, and IT (information technology). My attempts at learning certain operations were slow and frustrating. Joining the Chamber of Commerce, I found a plethora of talent to support my business needs at a fraction of the cost of what it took to learn the skills myself. And, with these experts, I didn’t have the learning curve pain!

For more than 20 years I have worked with the same wonderful CPA who has evolved with my business lifecycle. My IT guy is a treasure (also a 20-year colleague) who refers business to me regularly. Legal support has varied over the years. The many professionals who provide services to my business send me clients and opportunities. Referrals are a bonus, on top of the excellent guidance they provide on operating my business.

Relying on the knowledge, education and creativity of a professional can maximize your results with minimal effort. And, the relationship built upon trust will generate business for both companies.

Social media marketing has the reputation of being inexpensive and effective. It’s touted to be the best way to market for free. Anyone can do it, all alone, no help needed. Once you get the hang of it, you can see results in the “Likes” and “Shares” you accumulate. Yet, without strategy and a plan, even free Likes and Shares may miss the mark of your communication purpose.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Yelp, Google and other online entities have their strategies and plans. They manage their platforms and algorithms to achieve their purpose. You and your business are a cog in their gear. You can use them or let them use you. Or, you can hire a professional.

Even if you choose to plan, program and post yourself, consider that a professional can guide you with a relevant strategy. Know your goals, your target audience, your schedule, your budget and your metrics. If you don’t, a seasoned expert will help you to get there.

Have an audit of your social media done by an independent company. Get a look at what a professional social media firm can learn about your business. Often, there are gaps in your consistency of brand message and image. Mismatched logos, photos, stories and services can cause confusion.

Are your social media platforms linked properly to your website? Are your reviews managed by you, or are they dangling out there and casting a shadow on your otherwise sterling reputation? What do you do about a great review? What do you do about a poor review? These are critical questions an expert will ask.

Professional support comes in various sizes and forms. An audit or overview can identify issues to correct and will provide corrective strategies. Ongoing support can allow you to focus on your business while your social media is managed for you. You decide how much help you need and where the professional fits best in your marketing plan and budget.

Susan Dobbe-Leahy is president of Dobbe Marketing & PR Inc. Founded in 1989, this brand strategy agency leads businesses, organizations and municipalities to build brand image awareness and communication.

4 Proven Strategies to Get and Keep Customers

Business-to-consumer and business-to-business sales jobs account for a huge share of the workforce.

With competition in sales being fierce, you might think there would be plenty of analysis guiding companies and workers on how to do their very best to win and keep customers.

Not so, say sales experts Dave Stein and Steve Andersen. Most commentary on the topic focuses on one narrow aspect of the job: closing the deal.

“Point-of-sale strategies make sense for retail, although I think most customers and consumers want more from a salesperson than thinly veiled interest just to get a signed contract,” says Stein.

“Customers want to be confident that they’re doing business with organizations that understand their business and the uniqueness of their requirements,” says Andersen, president and founder of Performance Methods Inc. “A long-term, trust-based relationship proves beneficial for both parties – especially for a business-to-business customer. They don’t want to have to go looking for a new provider each time they require additional solutions, products and services.”

As co-authors of “Beyond the Sales Process: 12 Proven Strategies for a Customer-Driven World,” Stein and Andersen offer tips to salespeople for a long-term strategy in getting and keeping customers.

• Do your homework. If you’re going to connect your services to a customer’s needs, know what those needs are ahead of time, before a potential sale has even started to take shape. Don’t assume that the goals of the next CEO you speak with are the same as the last one. Do research specific to each prospect.

• Give them a reason to love you. Get to know them on a personal level. Learn about their passions and what makes them tick. Relationships matter – a lost concept among many in sales today.

• Stay engaged with your customer after your last sale and before your next. As with any relationship, customers want to know they’re appreciated and respected on a human level, not just financially. Stay in touch and try to engage with them regularly to discuss the things that matter most to them. Follow their business on social media and react to their successes.

• Leverage past successes to earn their commitment for the future. Validate the impact of what your solutions, products and services are doing for their business. As progress continues, explain to them how you will continue to create value with them in the long-term.

“As ink dries on the contract, stress levels drop for the salesperson, but rise for the customer,” Stein says.
“Keep your eye on the ball,”Andersen says. “It all boils down to them trusting you – before, during and after the sale.”

Dave Stein is a widely respected sales consultant and strategist. Steve Andersen is president and founder of Performance Methods Inc., a sales and account management performance consulting firm whose clients include many of the world’s top companies. Stein and Andersen are co-authors of the evidence-based Beyond the Sales Process: 12 Proven Strategies for a Customer-Driven World.

Improve Performance by Providing Feedback

While the vast majority of employees in U.S. organizations crave feedback on their job performance, most organizations don’t foster an effective feedback culture.

These are the findings from a recent national survey conducted by Eagle Hill Consulting. The survey of 1,700 professionals across a range of industries and career levels was undertaken to gain a deeper understanding of how employees view feedback in relation to their performance and professional development.  

The survey data reveal that 87 percent of respondents believe feedback is important to career development, and 85 percent say they feel valued when someone takes the time to provide feedback on their work. Yet only 60 percent of respondents reported that their work environment supports a culture of feedback. Only 44 percent said they receive regular feedback on their work.

“Providing employees with real-time, actionable and constructive feedback can be one of the most effective ways to improve an organization’s overall performance,” says Melissa Jezior, president and CEO of Eagle Hill Consulting. “Waiting until the annual performance review to have conversations about strengths and areas for improvement just doesn’t cut it in the fast-paced, competitive environment organizations face today.” 

Given the feedback gap, Eagle Hill Consulting proposes five small steps that organizations can take to improve the practice of employees and supervisors giving, receiving and soliciting feedback:

• Provide frequent feedback. Organizations should create formal and informal channels that facilitate frequent peer and supervisorial feedback instead of relying exclusively on annual or semi-annual performance appraisal cycles. Nearly 60 percent of survey respondents reported that they would like feedback on a daily or weekly basis, a number that increased to 72 percent for employees under age 30.

• Deliver feedback in person. The majority of employees, 78 percent, preferred to receive feedback in person. Emailing feedback or discussing it over the phone may be the only option in a time-crunch or with a geographically dispersed staff, but these should not be the go-to methods of communication.

• Recognize when changes are made as a result of feedback. It takes practice to develop a comfort level with constructively soliciting and receiving feedback. A key way to support feedback is to recognize when employees make improvements as a result of it. Of respondents who indicated that their company had a “comfortable feedback environment,” 83 percent said they are recognized when they make changes based on feedback.

• Encourage peer and “360 degree” feedback. More than 85 percent of survey respondents stated that they receive feedback primarily from their supervisors, and more than 75 percent believe that feedback is valuable. About 45 percent of respondents also value feedback from their peers and clients or customers, yet less than 30 percent said they receive it. Organizations can address this gap by fostering a supportive, comfortable workplace with appropriate systems in place that enable employees to receive additional feedback from their peers or clients.

• Offer feedback training for both supervisors and employees. Company-wide trainings help to set expectations, promote and reinforce best practices, share helpful resources and rally a workforce to take steps to change together. However, the survey showed that only about a quarter of organizations provide any feedback-related training for employees or supervisors, and less than 10 percent offered trainings on how to receive and solicit feedback. Organizations can start small with an introductory training session.

“It’s important to make a clear distinction between feedback and reviews,” says Jezior. “Feedback is about large-scale information sharing, which encompasses, but is not limited to, reviews. When information is given honestly, constructively and regularly, it results in competent and confident employees that drive organizational success.”

The findings and corresponding recommendations are detailed in a new whitepaper, Feedback on Feedback, Five Ways to Create a Constructive Feedback Culture.

Eagle Hill Consulting LLC is a woman-owned business that provides management consulting services in the areas of business strategy, organizational transformation, human capital transformation, process improvement, program management and change management.