Thursday, December 31, 2009

Every day begins a new year

So maybe it's been tough, it's been a grind of a year. It's great to begin a new year. Kinda like golf: you play a crappy front nine and man is it great to start over with a new back nine.

But let's be honest. It's all in our heads. We can change or begin to change now or tomorrow or last week, if we want to. The question is: what's stopping us from doing what we should be doing? What's in our way?
In leadership and in goal setting, it's not always about the new goal you give yourself. It's sometimes about what you take away or move out of the way that will help you succeed.
Before you tell everyone your New Year's resolution.... tell us what you're taking out of the way.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Misperception of the "Big guy"

We hear it often about top execs or ultra-successful people: they're cold, calculating, selfish, political, etc. After all, they have to be, to be to be successful, right?


The majority of the successful people I've known are respectful, inspiring, honest, sincere and fair. They have to be or they'd be facing failure at every turn.

Successful people are sometimes vilified by others who don't want to do what it takes or be what it takes to be successful themselves.

Successful execs have a lot of pressure and time constraints, but so do most of us. The best of us still take time to focus on relationships.

An employee of ours told me once about how great one of my friends, Rich, was. "Oh, he's just great, a real normal, down-to-earth guy." When I told her that Rich ran the largest division of an orthopedic company, she replied, "Oh, well he's different than the rest of those execs, then. He's a real person."

We can't profile execs anymore than we should anyone else. They're human beings and when they are successful, it's usually because of the good things--not the bad things--they do.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's in the Dirt

Ask a winemaker and you'll hear what makes the ultimate wine. "The dirt." Without great soil and growing conditions, no one can make a great wine.

The same at corporations. Why are some corporations destined to struggle while others thrive? Sometimes, it's in the "dirt."

The dirt at a corporation is the culture, the foundation of everything that company is made of. That explains why some corporations consistently stumble. They have issues at their very core they can't cover up or hide. These issues will continue to occur unless something extraordinary happens.

One answer is to move your company. My company, LaBov & Beyond Marketing Communications, has seen numerous clients re-locate across the country. At first glance that might appear to be foolish and expensive. But it can be smart. One advantage is they settle on new soil--which means their new environment brings a different kind of employee and a different local culture. The old way of doing business gives way organically to the new environment.

Another way to look at this concept is to identify what in your "dirt" keeps bringing you success? If you're experiencing a tremendous success, then it's never a good idea to change your soil, it's an ideal time to focus on it and bring out its best.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Great "New" Source for Ideas

One of the things I love most is bringing a new idea to someone--especially if it's something that never has been done before.

In the marketing and advertising business, most of the time those breakthrough ideas are presented, it's to a prospect. Most agencies and suppliers gear up for the cool ideas when it means taking them to a new prospect.

There is a far better source for your best ideas: your clients.

There's more than meets the eye to this. It's not just the fact a supplier might be too enamored with a new prospect as opposed to a client. It's also about the relationship with the client. Often, the client just wants what they ask for. They're busy, they don't want to be bothered, they're under pressure, etc. The account person doesn't want to bother or irritate them.

Suppliers have to fight the temptation to allow the status quo to continue. We must pleasantly, yet firmly, bring new ideas to help our clients. And clients, you not only need to want that, but also appreciate those suppliers that care enough to push for it.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Change: Reality or Casualty of the Culture?

If you're a corporation that needs fresh ideas and wants to shake things up, congrats. Good thinking. Our company, LaBov & Beyond Marketing Communications, loves when clients want to break the mold. But...

One thing to keep in mind: too frequently, things never end up changing. And here's one reason why:
Quite often, the fresh ideas that are created to help the corporation overcome its cultural issues (problems) are being judged and rejected by the very people who represent and embrace those cultural issues (problems).
In other words, the people that need to change are judging, and in many cases, stopping the change from occurring.

If you really, truly want change, then make sure the right people are in charge of the movement. Otherwise, it will be another casualty of the culture.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond Marketing Communications

Monday, December 21, 2009

Four Questions for Dealers (Sales Channel) to Answer

If you're a dealer or the sales channel (distributor, rep or agent) for at least one manufacturer, here are four questions to answer:

1) Are you entrepreneurial? Believe it or not, many dealers struggle with this. Yet, the primary reason a manufacturer links up with a dealer is that dealer is supposed to be entrepreneurial, to want to sell, grow business, expand, etc. The best dealers are hungry, they're looking for more business, they know they're customers, they have a long-term view and they take their business personally. That stuff is impossible for a behemoth manufacturer. Don't become them.

2) Is your staff a bunch of order-takers or order-makers? Not just your sales staff, but your service staff--are they looking to grow business or are they sitting around waiting for it to come to them?

3) How well-trained is your staff? Today it's easy to be trained. The manufacturer offers it. There are plenty of outlets offering training. Your staff must be experts. They must know significantly more than today's Internet savvy customer or they render your dealership useless.

4) Do you "own" the customer or do the brands they buy from you "own" them? If you merely represent and sell brands that customers want, what is your value? If, on the other hand, the customer loves and trusts you and will consider any brand you represent, that's a totally different story. You have value, you have security and no doubt you will prosper.

A sales channel that is entrepreneurial, expertly trained, that generates business and has customer loyalty is extraordinarily valuable--not only to the customer but to the manufacturer. And, BTW, it's also highly profitable.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond

Friday, December 18, 2009

Four Questions for Manufacturers to Answer

Here are four questions for manufacturers that sell through sales channels to answer.

1) How engaged is your sales channel? Do you look at your sales channel as a necessary evil or are they an extension of your Brand? Do you talk down to them or are they eye-to-eye with you?

2) How willing are you to be vulnerable and open with your key suppliers? Your suppliers know more than you give them credit for. They probably would love to be engaged deeper with you. All you have to do is ask.

3) How inspired is your product? Is your offering a me-too or an original? Does it motivate, do people smile when they talk about it?

4) How internally focused versus externally focused are you? Is there a very clear understanding of the customer and who they are and what they want? Or is the corporation focused on itself, its politics, and its processes?

A manufacturer that has a fired-up sales channel, dedicated supplier partners, inspired product and an intimacy with their customers can only win.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond Marketing Communications

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The best bet in this economy

As the economy is supposedly improving, already you hear companies saying things are on the upswing. That feels good. But let's look at reality.

It is conceivable the economy and the stock market will improve, but that doesn't mean we're out of trouble. We're in uncharted territory. What will the deficit mean to all of this? What about the numerous regulatory laws that will be affecting industries? Inflation? Deflation? De-valuing of the dollar?

There are too many unknowns out there due to the uniqueness of our economic situation. The best bet? Stay hungry, be aggressive.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Amish RV Company: The Best-Kept Secret

My company, LaBov & Beyond Marketing Communications, worked with an Amish recreational vehicle company for years. I love the response when I tell people that--they always smile. It sounds like the opening line to a joke. But it was no joke.

The president at the time, who was a fantastic gentleman, told me they were "the best-kept secret" in the RV business. They made the best product, but few people knew about them.
Think about it. When is it ever good to be a "best-kept secret"? Maybe if you were a secret agent or in the CIA. But if you sell a product and it's a secret, you're in trouble.
I told the president, after he hired us, that if one year from that day they were still a best-kept secret, we'd resign the account--too humiliating to be the marketing agency for a best-kept secret.

Turns out the Amish RV company made a great product, but other than putting out brochures, they never engaged their dealers to sell. They took care of customers' problems brilliantly, but never reached out to them otherwise.

All we did was help them balance their approach to marketing (less focus on brochures, more focus on generating action, improving the customer experience, and energizing the dealers).

And by the way, the Amish were fun to work with.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond Marketing Communications

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Five signs of entrepreneurial dealership salespeople

As an entrepreneur, it's clear to me. Dealership salespeople, in general, are order-takers. Some are well-trained order takers. Some are high-performing order-takers. But most are order-takers. They are like most sales people.

It's easy to identify an entrepreneurial dealer salespeople. They generate business. They:
  1. Join business networking clubs to meet people that might buy their products
  2. Use LinkedIn and other social media to make connections
  3. Mine their client list to make sure clients are satisfied and to learn of referrals
  4. Conduct their own sales events. For example, they invite their customers to dealership to see new product or just to thank them
  5. Keep ongoing communication with their clients and prospects. For example, they may have their own newsletter or if nothing else they send press clippings of new products when appropriate to this list.
An entrepreneurial salesperson is gold--and they make gold. The bad news is most salespeople are order-takers. The good news is if you're an entrepreneurial one, you're going to beat the others left and right. And if you're a manufacturer with an entrepreneurial sales force, you're an unstoppable force.

Barry laBov
LaBov and Beyond

Monday, December 14, 2009

A powerful incentive for dealers

Corporations that sell through sales channels often ponder on which is the best way to motivate their dealers. How much money? How much hold-back on the product? Should it be a tiered discount system? Should there be sales incentives?

Sure, money is great as an incentive, who can so no to more money? But there is another option if you (the manufacturer) qualifies.

If you have a hero product, the kind that sells itself, the kind that is the one product that the sales channel is begging you to send more of, then use it as an incentive.
If you manufacture five products and you want all five to be represented by the sales channel (not just the hero), then reward the channel with more hero product to sell if it also sells a mix of the other products (you determine the mix). This will force the channel to focus on the other product--they will have to learn about it, be trained on it, and actually generate business for those other products. The channel will make more money and they'll also be able to sell more hero product,too. And by the way, the manufacturer makes more money.

Now all the manufacturer has to do is be able to make more hero products...

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Friday, December 11, 2009

The three "must-do" email communication secrets

We have plenty of emails flying into our lives everyday. It's like Chinese Water Torture. Bling, in comes an email. We read it, then go back to what we were doing. Bling, another email. And so on.

Here are three important secrets to communicating via email:

1) Make sure your communication is clear enough that it doesn't require another email to clarify. Too often, an email comes in stating merely, "Had an interesting discussion with Rhames. He needs to change the schedule." What does that mean? Was it a good or bad "interesting" discussion? What is the new schedule? Will we be able to meet it? Clarify, clarify, clarify.

2) Write it with the understanding that anyone--I mean anyone--could read it. Any derogatory or negative statement you write may end up on the screen of someone not intended to read it.

3) No mass emails. Sure there are going to be a few now and then, but I've done research on this. There are people who receive numerous mass emails and there are others in the same position who almost never do. If you help propagate mass emails, they will come back to you. If you never respond en mass to them, they will almost never come back. Respond one-on-one unless necessary.

We have too much going on to increase the interference and confusion in our business lives.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Push and Pull

In marketing there's a concept called "push marketing," which is basically pushing your product on your dealers. Making them stock your stuff so they feel the pressure to sell.

Then there's "pull marketing," meaning the dealers or customers are demanding your product, they're pulling it from you. Obviously, the ideal is to be in a "pull" position. You can demand a better price, better terms and there is healthy competition for your product.

At large and small corporations, there's the same phenomena. There are "push" people and "pull" people. The "push"people are the ones that need be forced to do their jobs, they have to be checked up on, they take orders and do little else. The "pull" people are the ones that want more opportunity, they have ideas and take ownership for them.

In this economy, there is no more room for "push" employees. In essence, in many cases those employees push themselves out the door. The higher the percentage of "pull" employees a corporation has, the better its success.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Technology and Mediocrity

Way back in the old days, a good musician had to play rhythmically and accurately to be considered good. Then came computers. A decent software program would allow a sloppy performance to be loaded in and then be corrected so it was tight and error-free.

In the old days, a graphic artist actually drew things with a pen or pencil. The artist would use a razor blade and cut out the art work and glue it (paste it) on to their boards. Then a computer program came along that allowed the computer to draw and also to cut and paste anything.

Now, the big craze is social media. A few people are really mastering it and are making a living utilizing it. Social media will only get bigger. But technology will also continue to creep in to its space. Right now, few people are great at it. In a couple years or less, there will be scores of software programs that will do to social media what they did to music and graphic arts: it will become easier to be mediocre.

The technology doesn't make the musician or the graphic artist more creative, but it does help anyone get up to the level of mediocrity a lot easier. Social media will be the same.

Lesson: if you think you're pretty good at it today, you better keep growing and learning because technology will be nipping at your heels.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Monday, December 7, 2009

Brands are vanishing around us

Another casualty of this economy is that brands are disappearing and if we don't stop and realize, we may not notice they're gone.

Plymouth, Oldsmobile, and Saturn have vanished over the last few years. Buell Motorcycles also just announced it was closing down.

It's no longer just the lay-offs and down-sizing that are going on. Brands are being cut. A sign of tough times.

This is the beginning of brand reductions. It's simply too expensive to fund and subsidize brands that can't pay for themselves.

It used to be that an individual had to "pay for himself (or herself)" in order to ensure he (she) could keep his job. Now, brands are being expected to do the same.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond

Friday, December 4, 2009

One on One Gets it Done

We've all heard the saying, "The more the merrier." I think that's true when it comes to ideas--the more ideas on the table, the more likely you'll find a great one.

But when it comes to making a presentation or discussing a difficult issue, it doesn't ring true. If you are truly committed and truly believe, then a one-on-one is far more effective than bringing three or four (or more) people with you.

Ask yourself this the next time you work with a client or present an idea: Am I bringing in the fewest people as possible or am I bringing in more people because it feels better or because it looks impressive?

Another thing about being going one-on-one when there's an issue--it takes guts. It's not easy. But it reaps dividends. You can make real progress, talk about the most sensitive issues. And you're respected for having that courage. That won't happen if you bring in a troupe.

When it comes to ideas, the more the merrier. When it comes to communications, the fewer the better.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why isn't there more entrepreneurial thinking at dealerships?

You'd think that dealerships would be a hotbed for entrepreneurial behavior. That's what manufacturers that use dealers expect: the manufacturer builds something and the dealer sells it. By why is there so much friction between those two entities?

One answer is that dealerships quite often are not entrepreneurial. Sure, they started out that way when Dad or Grandpa or Grandma founded them. But today, most dealerships are family businesses and it's the second or even third generation that is in charge. Those second and third generation folks are smart, but quite often they're a different breed. They're more conservative, less risk-taking. They are focused are maintaining the business, less on growing it.

Sometimes dealerships are started by enthusiasts or technical people, such as engineers or mechanics. Again, they may be brilliant, but thinking like an entrepreneur is a stretch for them.

It's time we realized that training is an answer--but not the traditional product, technical or soft-skills training. We need a new kind of training and development: to awaken the entrepreneur at our dealerships or at least open their eyes to entrepreneurial thinking.

Barry LaBov
LaBov & Beyond

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

An Eleven Year Old Can See It

I was sitting at a little league baseball game watching a great game until, unexpectedly something happened. It had been a close game between a good team and a struggling team until that losing team fell apart, giving up the maximum number of runs in the last innings to lose the game. I was dumbfounded. How could this happen, it was almost impossible? Then I heard a little voice behind me say, "I knew they'd do this."

I turned around and it was an eleven-year-old ballplayer waiting for this game to end so his team could start their game. I asked him, "How did you know this disaster would take place?"

He said, "Simple. The team that lost didn't believe in themselves. They gave up and the other team sensed it." "Yeah," said a chorus of his teammates as they picked up their gear and headed to the dugout to get ready for their game.

Think about it--if you don't believe in yourself or your company or your product, I bet your customers sense it, I bet your competitors sense it.

Maybe what the eleven-year-old said explains why we make presentations and the customer doesn't buy-in or why some people sell a lot and others fail--all selling the same product and brand.

We have to believe, we have to give it everything we have or our customers will sense we're not committed, that we don't believe. And we can't fake it--our customers and our competitors will know. Just ask any eleven-year-old.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Erin's House, a great example of a non-profit

My company, LaBov & Beyond Marketing Communications, supports a non-profit that provides counseling and therapy for children who have lost their parents to death. This non-profit, Erin's House, is a dream to work with. We provide our creative services pro bono (free) and yet it's an exhilarating experience because of their cause and because of the way Erin's House conducts itself.

Erin's House is the rare non-profit that inspires its suppliers. They allow our creatives to do their best work. One of owners, Cathy Schannen, works closely with their board to produce print pieces and to help them raise funds. Cathy is fired up about helping them, which has infected me to feel the same.

Non-profits are struggling. They need to learn from Erin's House: choose your suppliers--don't put them to bid against each other. Allow the supplier to do their best work. Include the supplier in their events and be part of their family.

There are millions of non-profits with great causes. Yet, most are in peril. Non-profits: choose your partners and show them loyalty; allow them to help you and feel a part of your cause.

Barry LaBov
President, LaBov and Beyond