tips

Writing Strategies: Part I

Everyday I’m cc’ed on ezines and emails from salespeople who are delivering value to their customers with Ace of Sales. They’re answering customer questions and delivering ideas, updates, and success strategies. They’re experts in their industry, just like you. However, there’s a big difference between them and you. Their customers are aware of their expertise and are repaying them with their loyalty.

Are you writing to your customers?

If you think you don’t have enough time to write, allocate more.

If you feel you have nothing to write about, switch to an industry that ignites your passion. If you don’t think you’re a good writer, you just need confidence and some pointers.

Here’s the winning hand of tips to improve your writing:

Ace of Hearts: Follow great content creators. To see how bloggers and expert article writers do it, use www.alltop.com to find popular blogs regarding topics you’re passionate about. Or, find your favorite magazine’s online version. Digest and examine their free content to grow your writing skills. I frequent wired.com and dwell.com.

King of Hearts: Improve your diction. Remember vocabulary tests from grade school? For most people, learning new words stopped about the same time. If you have a smart phone, get Dictionary.com’s app and turn on the “Word of the Day" feature. Each day, you’ll learn a new word like, “perspicacious." To retain the word, force yourself to use it that day in conversation.

Queen of Hearts: Use more precise words. No one is expected to speak with Elizabethan eloquence, but it would behoove you to swap more general, common words with more fitting synonyms. The word “discover" is better than “find" and the term “aesthetically captivating" is more informative than “interesting." Using a more accurate word makes you appear more educated while improving your customers’ engagement and comprehension.

Jack of Hearts: Break your sentences down. If your paragraph feels awkward, chances are you’re trying to cram too much into one sentence. Split unwieldy sentences into two or three and you’ll find your words and ideas will work themselves out into a more flowing arrangement.

Ten of Hearts: Don’t reuse words too often. A quick way to sound pedestrian is to recycle the same words over and over again. Everyone has pet words, but when they appear too often in your writing, your readers may view them as a crutch for your inability to communicate clearly.

Cliches: Avoid them like the plague! Er...

avoid-cliches

Leaning on a cliche to convey meaning works against you as a self-marketer, salesperson, and relationship builder. This is especially true in your emails, marketing materials, and sales presentations. You know what cliches are, right? They're common analogies and expressions that have become dull and meaningless due to overuse. And when it comes to sales and marketing communication, meaningless is not your aim.

Here are 5 tips to avoid cliches: (Titles are for your amusement.)

1. The writing on the wall. Say what you mean, without flowery, superfluous language. Be specific. Clear, precise wording creates impact. Rather than starting your email or PowerPoint with the title, "You Have To Spend Money to Make Money," you could write, "The 2 Investments Every Business Owner Must Make Now." Which lead-in would keep you reading?

2. Haste makes waste. Cliches are relied on because they require little thinking. Thinking takes time. Most people, like your competitors, are lazy. (Maybe you are too.) Hard workers, who are smart, use their mind to their advantage. When you fail to inject knowledge and notion enriched thought into your writing, customers will interpret your words as twaddle. Take the time to re-think and replace cliches with mindful verbiage.

3. Cheaters never prosper. Cliches are essentially copying. Remember my most retweeted tweet: "The only company that ever succeeded by copying was Xerox. Be an original." I could have saved the fifteen minutes I invested to craft that quote and re-used the cliche, "Don't be a copy cat." However, I wouldn't have received the same windfall of retweets. (Follow my "cliche-free" tweets: @andyhorner)

4. Too much of a good thing. "He was dead" delivers more force than "He was dead as a doornail". Verbose descriptions diminish the significance and potency of your ideas and stories. Brevity is an attractor of admirers and an attribute of wisdom.

5. Throw them a curve ball. Alter a cliche to give it new meaning and capture your reader's attention. Instead of saying, "What goes around comes around," say, "What goes around doesn't have to come around." Now that you've piqued your reader's interest, elaborate.

BONUS TIP: There are no stupid questions. Think "Jeopardy." Phrase your cliches in the form of questions to give them new life, engage readers, and prompt reactions. The cliche "Let us do the heavy lifting" doesn't carry the same weight as "How much can you lift?"

When you're tempted to reach for a cliche, try one of these tips. It'll return to you - not in spades - but in respect, responses, and revenue.

You Had to Be There!

you-had-to-be-there-inside-jokes

Inside Jokes — one of the most powerful sales tools!

I was once with a client at an outdoor cafe canopied in green umbrellas. I munched on my pesto chicken wrap and sweet potato chips while my client detailed his next project, which would be a home run for me if I landed the job.

One-at-a-time, small grey birds (not pigeons) flew down from the roofs nearby and landed on the extra chairs at our table. I shooed a few away, but more came. Concentrating on my customer's words with the growing number of winged intruders was becoming difficult. Finally one landed on my shoulder! I brushed it off and yelled, "Get your own!" Thinking I was clever, I smiled back at my client and said, "I think they got the point. Where were we?" Just then, one of the birds swooped down and plucked a chip right out of my hand. We both burst into laughter.

The next day, I emailed a proposal to the customer and included a photo of a bird with a potato chip photoshopped in its mouth. I ended the email with this, "Let's get started! How about a kick-off lunch next week. I suggest somewhere inside." I got the job, but more importantly kicked-off a long lasting client friendship.

Take a second to see if you can recall an inside joke you have with your customers. Maybe it was a belly laugh you had about kids or a quirky waiter. Perhaps you wore the same shirt or coined a new nickname of the golf course. Inside jokes are one of the most powerful ways to connect with a customer or prospect. They're ice-breakers at the moment they happen. They're follow up opportunities later.

Here are some tips to create a lasting inside joke:

• Latch on to moments or jokes your customer thought were funny, not just those you laughed at.

• Catalyze an inside joke. Bring a gift with you! I had a vendor who brought me a toy bowling set! We had a blast playing a few games before the meeting. I hired him and still bring it up when I see him.

• Keep the joke going. Follow up quick by taking the joke to the next level.

• Self-depricating jokes are fine, but if the joke is at your customer's expense, you're probably the only one really laughing.

• Don't try to bring the conversation back to your presentation, pitch, or price too quickly - if the customer is laughing, go with the flow. It's probably the one thing they'll remember!

Have a great inside joke with one of your customers? Send it to me!

Andy Horner — andyhorner@aceofsales.com

Customer Loyalty and My Bradford Pears

bradford-pears-customer-loyalty

When I bought my home, the one-acre yard was fenced by a graceful colonnade of Bradford pear trees. Their idyllic elegance sold me and my wife on the property. In the spring, I beamed with pride as their white blossoms created an elvish arcade of gleaming perfection. In the fall, they were the last remaining torches of autumn while my neighbors' trees stood ashamed by their nakedness. Sadly though, in the three years since we moved in, all but a few of our Bradford pears have fallen, snapped in half by windy nights and icy storms.

Bradford pears, I've learned, are extremely fragile.

As I sawed up the latest casualty from my once perfect gallery of beauties, I pondered a comparison between my delicate Bradfords and the delicate loyalty of modern customers and consumers. (Come on! You don't ponder business mysteries while sweating in the yard?)

Blind duty and time-honored devotion are relics of the twentieth century. It's a buyers' world out there and they're not afraid to change their minds, choose another, and drop you without a passing thought. Your connection to your customers is as fragile as the trunk of a Bradford pear.

Product quality, feature depth, and customer service excellence are all areas that help prevent customers from breaking away. But after a sale is made, what can you do as a sales professional to make sure the loyalty of your customers remains strong?

That which keeps a customer relationship strong is the same as that which strengthens a Bradford pear - regular skilled attention.

Too late, I discovered that Bradford pears are up to 75% less likely to fall when they're topped, pruned, and thinned routinely. If there's a crack in the trunk, an almost invisible metal brace can help it heal and remain sturdy.

I couldn't save my trees, but I share the following to help you preserve your book of business and grow your strong colonnade of customers.

1. Thank them often.

Check in with them through the fullfillment process, after the product is delivered, and randomly throughout the year just to share your appreciation. Add a gift for emphasis. Random check-in's are perceived as the most thoughtful and therefore have the most impact.

2. Be their tenacious advocate.

Fight for your customers. Battle your own company's policies and ambivalent staffers - if that's what it takes - to guide your customers to victory.

3. Apologize switfly.

Don't say you're sorry. Just call and apologize quickly with no defense or excuses. When you do, your customer will be disarmed and you can get to resolving the customer's issue and restoring their loyalty to 100%.

4. Share your expertise weekly.

Every week, the minds and memories of your customers reset. Send a weekly email to offer helpful tips, timely advice, and insightful ideas. You don't have to create a full blown ezine. A couple one paragraph articles with a line between them in a nicely designed email is enough. (Ace of Sales makes it a snap! www.aceofsales.com)

5. Connect with them daily, socially.

Use the same info you send in your weekly email update in your tweets, blogs, and Facebook posts. Release them throughout the week in sound bites, questions, and tips to offer your customers a chance to dialogue with you when it's convenient for them.

6. Let your personality shine.

Remove all corporate speak and marketing language from your emails, proposals, and social media posts. When you write and speak with your own distinctive, genuine voice, your customers grow in their connection to you and the company you represent.

7. Create a memorable hook.

I used to draw whimsical caricatures of my customers that were usually framed and hung above their desks. I'm an illustrator, so it worked for me. Find something from your personal skill set that you can employ to create a one-of-a-kind experience for your customers.

8. Help them in off-hours and overtime.

When a vendor works a weekend or emails me late at night, I always appreciate their dedication to me, the customer. Never bring it up that you're usually off at five but you're willing to stay at work a little longer. Just do it and they'll love it.

Many owners of Bradford pears are unaware that their trees, with proper attention, can be protected to flourish for years and years. The same is true of your customer relationships.

Do You Have an Elevator Picture?

elevator-picture

You're at a networking event, at a restaurant, or actually on an elevator and you bump into someone new. Does this sound familiar? "Hello, my name is [Your Name]."

"I'm Susan."

"Nice to meet you, Susan."

"Likewise. So, tell me what you do?"

Cue your elevator pitch, right? Hang on a minute there! Before you launch into it, consider this:

Business people are just like real people with suits on - they have been upgraded with eye, ear, brain, and thumb bionics by the techno-surgeons Apple, YouTube, Twitter, Hulu, Nintendo, and DirecTV. The calm multi-taskers of yesteryear are now frenetic info-inhaling, media-gobbling poly-taskers. Words alone are too 2D for them.

So how do you capture Susan's interest before the elevator doors open?

It's time to upgrade your pitch with an "elevator picture" so you can respond with "It'll be faster for me to show you."

What is an elevator picture?

It's the graphics and visuals that enhance your word.

Use diagrams, charts, video, illustrations and photos to help Susan draw relationships between data and concepts. For instance, if you sell a new type of residential window with superior insulating technology you can say, "I sell an innovative window with high-performance insulating seals that can lower energy bills by 50%." Or you can show it.

Your words alone - just like the other billion pitches blasted at your customers like marketing nutrinos - pass through with no impact. They open the flood gates to a ten minute Q&A session your prospect doesn't have time for.

But if you could show an explicit, cross-sectioned visual of the new window technology with materials referenced, statistics stated, and the manufacturer logo brightly emblazoned, you answer dozens of questions in seconds.

An elevator picture is worth a thousand words of an elevator pitch. Words are forgotten. Images are indelible. By adding imagery to your pitch, Susan won't forget your message.

Here are 10 tips to show and tell by adding an elevator picture to your pitch:

1. Get an iPad. Don't be afraid. It's not the devil's window. It's a powerful, portable display that enables you to always have your visuals handy. Flick to move between slides. Tap to play video. Pinch to zoom into details. Can't afford one? Use a $30 digital photo frame. You can load all your visuals and click between them or set them up on their stand at your trade show booth.

2. No small text. If you're creating an illustration, use large text about the height of a Skittle (30 points).

3. Remove unnecessary detail. The best visuals are those with simple images and very little text. Strip out all but the essential information.

4. Use comparisons. Use a picture comparison between the competitor's product and yours. If you sell grass seed, show your turf compared to the patchy result of your competitor.

5. Use statistics. If your product yields a 50% savings, state that in huge text right next to your graphics.

6. Use testimonials. Add a short, one sentence customer comment to your graphics for greater impact.

7. Don't be cheap. Salespeople are notorious for wanting to cut corners and go the cheap route. Don't scrimp. Your elevator picture will only impress if it's professional.

8. Hire the best local designer. Don't use your nephew in high-school. Find the best professional in your area and pay their ridiculous fee to get the best illustrations or graphics you can afford.

9. Use a crowd sourcing service. Don't know any local designers? Use a web service like www.crowdspring.com. Provide a thumbnail sketch and detailed description of the graphics you need. You'll get dozens or hundreds of submissions. Pick your favorite. Pay. Done.

10. Buy stock photography. Use www.fotolia.com or www.istockphoto.com to get affordable, high quality photos and graphics - $3 to $5.

iPad-Locked

padlock-car-towed-impounded

Has your car ever been towed because you parked in a reserved spot?

It happened to me the other day while I was out of town. Let me just say that it's about as much fun as being mugged, and I know because that's happened to me too. (I was raised in the suburbs. Can you tell?)

The stamp-sized sign by the parking spot detailed the fee to be paid ($120), the impounding location (a great place to get mugged), and that a photo ID was required to recover my car.

See, that was going to be a problem. My 2 year old enjoys throwing things into the trash, including my wallet a week prior.

I had no ID and it was getting late. How would I get my car back?

I got a ride to a money machine and to the towing lot from my business partner. As I got out of his car, he said, "If you can convince them to give you back your car with no ID, you really are the Ace of Sales." I took a deep breath and headed into the graffitied office.

The man behind the counter intimidated me for two reasons. One, he was snarling before I even said, "Hello." Two, he had a pistol tucked down the front of his pants. (You can't make this stuff up.)

As you can imagine, without my photo ID he wasn't about to give me my car. When I pushed him harder, he approached the window and hissed through rotten teeth, "Without proof that you're Andy Horner, you get nothing!"

I looked down, dodging the stench of his breath, and noticed my iPad was picking up a wireless signal. Thinking fast, I looked up and posed a challenge to the man. "I'll make you a deal. If you google the name Andy Horner and my photo is on the first page of the image results I get my car back."

He laughed hard. "Deal!"

Andy-Horner
Andy-Horner

I think he just wanted to touch my iPad. I showed him how to open the browser and type my name. He tapped the search button. A second later he was staring at my photo - the very first result! It even had my name on the image.

He looked up with a smile on his face. "How'd you do that? What, you some kind of famous singer?" I replied, "Open the gate."

A minute later, I drove up alongside my partner, who'd been waiting for me. He held up both hands as if to ask, "How did you pull it off?" I said, "He found out I was a famous singer."

It's a fun story to tell but there's also a lesson to learn.

Your presence on the internet is now a determining factor in your success. Customers, competitors, and everyone you do business with are going online to research and evaluate you.

Are you on the first page?

If your customers find articles you've written, expertise you've tweeted, photos of you networking, and videos of you expressing your ideas, they will perceive you as important, active, relevant, and valuable. It's the hard proof that will seal their decision to trust you, work with you, and pay your full price.

If they search and find nothing, your business goals may remain... locked away.

Two huge tips for getting ranked in search results:

1. Tag everything. In the description and tag area for a blog post, YouTube video, and your LinkedIn profile include your full name, the name of your business, and other key words that someone might search for when looking you up.

2. Add your name to the image file with a hyphen. When using your portrait as an image in a blog, Facebook, or LinkedIn post, title the image file like this: "andy-horner.jpg" (Use your name of course.)

The Value of a Little Adventure

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In third grade I had a choice – walk home from school alone or ride the bus for an hour (my house was the last stop). I chose the shorter path even though I despised “The March of Boredom" more than brushing my teeth or washing the dishes. So... I did what any imaginative eight year old would do. Each day as I headed home, I pretended I had a fatal stomach wound inflicted on me by a gunman atop the school. The goal was to survive until I made it to the hospital (my house). Clinging to life, I staggered up Lynn Dell Road. I reached the Powell’s yard and could go no further. Clutching my abdomen and wailing in agony, I crumpled into the soft green grass to die.

The first time I “pulled this little stunt," Mrs. Powell burst from her house slippered, bathrobed, and screaming hysterically. From then on, I was only permitted to “die" in my own yard. It worked out pretty well, because my mom fit perfectly into the fantasy as an angel sent to resurrect me with a Little Debbie snack cake.

Though I no longer “die" in my neighbors’ yards anymore, I still combat the vanilla moments of life by adding the chocolate syrup of adventure. I find it doesn’t take much to transform monotonous exercises into more enjoyable experiences.

Guess who else prefers life topped with a little extra excitement? Your customers!

Add touches of adventure to your customers’ experiences to strengthen your relationships, create memorable moments, and build a personal brand that’s “to die for."

End result: Customer loyalty and referrals that are very, very real.

Here are 5 tips to add a little adventure to customer experiences:

1. Book a training excursion with a top customer.

It could be a half-day event in your locality or a full-blown mini-vacation to an event neither of you will forget. Jeffrey’s Boot Camp in Vegas anyone? Pay for their ticket and they’ll pay you with undying gratitude.

2. Mail a treat to a customer only they would appreciate.

Recently, a customer of mine named Bob reminded me how well this works. While cleaning out his house he found a vintage sticker featuring Superman, my favorite comic hero. He mailed it to me with a nice note. I’ve only showed it to about 5,000 people.

3. Host your own networking event somewhere unusual with just a few business friends.

Another customer of mine recently used Ace of Sales to send out a chocolate tasting invitation to a select group of customers. They met at a local premier chocolate shop to get away from the unsweetened tedium of the week and enjoyed casual conversation over dessert.

4. Add a little personality to your proposals.

Make the buying process a little less ordinary, especially when you’re the long shot. I once tacked on this phrase at the end of a proposal, “The next document you sign for me will be your testimonial." I got the sale AND the testimonial.

5. Boost the excitement of your presentations with the power of show-and-tell.

Before you launch into your next PowerPoint, start off by using a physical object as a story illustration. Have you ever seen Jeffrey’s fake barf used to represent how your brochure sounds to customers? It rallies the room every time!

How To Promote Your Blog: 6 easy tips

sales blog promotion As a salesperson, your blog is at the heart of the value you offer your customers. It's the "open 24 hours" expertise hub, where your customers can gain wisdom, advice, and solutions that will help them make more money. The value of your blog posts influences their appreciation for you and their loyalty to your personal brand. Your blog helps separate you from your competitors – you know, the order-takers. It’s the platform where you slowly but surely establish yourself as a guiding force and go-to leader in your market.

But first, you must build a readership from your customer base and your social media network. If you promote it, they will come!

6 Tips on How To Promote Your Blog

1. In your ezine and emails.

After you add a new post to your blog, it's time to promote it. Feature it in your next ezine or email it in a Branded Email from Ace of Sales. Ask your recipients to post a comment and make sure you include a subscription link to your blog’s RSS feed, so they can get your blog posts as soon as you post them.

2. In partner ezines.

Chances are, several of your partners are forward-thinking enough to publish their own ezine too. Offer to promote them in your ezine, for the opportunity to publish your article (one of your blog posts) in theirs. A little back-scratching will help you fill up your ezine and give you exposure to a new contact base.

3. With your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube accounts.

To drive traffic to your blog, tweet your blog post titles with links to your blog! Do the same thing on Facebook and LinkedIn. Video yourself introducing a featured blog post and add it to your YouTube channel. Add a link to the post in the video title or notes area. Here's another idea – tweet insightful comments posted to your blog by your readers along with a link to your blog.

4. By networking on other blogs.

Participate on other blogs in your industry or region by becoming a regular commenter. By contributing to their community and conversations, you'll earn the opportunity to invite them to visit yours. Many blogs will allow you to enter your website when you post your comments. Enter your blog's web address or the link to one of your specific blog posts. The key here is to attract others to your blog because of the value you offer. Do not post comments like this: "Nice post, visit my blog here..." That's not networking. That's spamming.

5. On your business card.

Most salespeople only include their company website on their business cards. But does your company website demonstrate to your customers that you're an articulate professional, a thinker, or an expert who can help them make money? Get your blog address printed on your business cards! When you hand your card to a new contact with great customer potential, tell them to visit the blog tomorrow for a special message. That afternoon, post a shout out to them on your blog (first name only) and email them a link to it.

6. On EzineArticles.com.

It’s a popular, widely-used Internet service that allows anyone to submit articles to their site. If they approve your article, it’s added to their repository and categorized by your industry. EzineArticles.com allows anyone to publish your article in their ezine for free. It’s like an open, public syndication. Why would you do this? EzineArticles.com requires people who use your article to credit you and include a link to your website in their ezine. This is a great way to gain widespread exposure to your blog.

Being On Your Game, Even When You’re Not Playing

When you’re running your own business, you know you have to be “on your game" even when you’re not technically “working the business." Some things to consider:

sales-marketing-networking-tips
sales-marketing-networking-tips
  • ALWAYS keep business cards with you – you never know who you’re going to run into at the grocery store, the library, at your son’s little league game, etc.
  • Don’t be shy—strike up a conversation about your product or service whenever possible. Don’t assume someone won’t be interested!
  • Be aware of your appearance. Dressing neatly and being well groomed show you are a professional ALL the time.
  • Keep a small notebook handy – you never know when that great idea is going to hit you!