Zhivago Partners https://zhivagopartners.com Know what you need to do - and get it done right. Sat, 23 Feb 2019 02:10:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://zhivagopartners.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/favicon.jpg Zhivago Partners https://zhivagopartners.com 32 32 Looking for a digital agency? Integrity and business savvy matter the most https://zhivagopartners.com/blog/looking-for-a-digital-agency-integrity-and-business-savvy-matter-the-most/ https://zhivagopartners.com/blog/looking-for-a-digital-agency-integrity-and-business-savvy-matter-the-most/#respond Fri, 07 Dec 2018 20:05:13 +0000 https://zhivagopartners.com/?p=29395 Digital marketing is a lot like trying to put seven cats into a water-filled bathtub at the same time. You might get them in there OK (well, except for some nasty scratches), but getting them to stay put is another matter entirely.

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Digital marketing is a lot like trying to put seven cats into a water-filled bathtub at the same time. You might get them in there OK (well, except for some nasty scratches), but getting them to stay put is another matter entirely. Digital efforts and campaigns are subject to monopolies making life difficult (think Google and Facebook); websites breaking suddenly (think updating a WordPress plugin which disrupts all that custom coding your developer has done); governments imposing new regulations that don’t make sense but have hefty fees for non-compliance (think GDPR); or competitors finding out what you are doing right and one-upping you constantly (which is happening as I type this). When you’re trying to find a digital marketing agency, it’s important to keep all this chaos in mind, because when bad stuff happens, you need the truth—not a bunch of excuses or a coverup. Most importantly, to make sure you are herding all those cats properly, you need a strategy partner, not just an implementer.

What you really need from a digital marketing agency

Integrity—because stuff happens

When you evaluate digital agencies, you will be shown dashboards, examples of work, examples of performance, and results. The experience of the head of the agency is going to determine what they focus on most; if the owner is a copywriter, it will be content. If the owner comes from an SEO background, you will quickly find yourself deep in the weeds of SEO stats. If the owner comes from a traditional agency background, you will be hearing about brand recognition and awareness. All fine, but each of these is just one cat. Digital marketing can’t be focused on a single channel or method. I can’t tell you how many clients come to us saying, “We tried [say, SEO] and it didn’t work. Then we tried [say, social] and it didn’t work. Then . . . . “ The truth is, every company has to use a mix of a number of channels to create enough momentum and presence to rise to the top and to beat out its competitors. There’s another reason you don’t want to be single-channel focused. Stuff happens, and it happens fast. We have a client who had access to a group of 200,000 like-minded people on Facebook. More than 80% of their leads were coming in through that channel. Shortly after Mark Zuckerberg appeared in front of Congress, that client saw that available audience drop from 200,000 to 20,000—overnight. Overnight. Obviously, we found alternative methods to bring them new customers. Trends can emerge and die in a matter of weeks, and even one bad review can have a very negative effect. In this example, your digital agency should implement a multi-channel strategy to obtain more positive reviews to overwhelm the negative review (in addition to responding to the negative reviewer in a kind and helpful way). Digital marketing is filled with intricate, moving parts—and resolving a problem or building on success almost always requires multiple movements. So you definitely need an agency which is strong in all of the appropriate channels. And you need someone at the top who understands what it takes to make companies grow, not just how to work a single channel. Getting back to the “stuff happens” scenario. Since it is true that stuff happens, the next question is, “What is this agency going to do when stuff happens?” This is where integrity comes in. Integrity assumes honesty, but you need more than just honesty. They must have the skill and drive to get to the truth of the matter and to start working on it right away. They need the unhesitating desire to include the client in the problem—and the solution. And, they need to have a passionate determination to keep that problem from happening again. In short, they need to behave openly and responsibly, without fear, so that whatever is broken can be fixed—in a way that prevents a recurrence. I bring all this up because digital marketing is filled with experts who speak down to their clients and keep their tracks well-covered with “I know so much, and you know so little. Just trust me, it’s all good.” When a client says, “That’s Greek to me,” my instant reaction is to start un-Greeking the subject for the client. Yes, digital marketing can be arcane and filled with acronyms. But that doesn’t mean it is impossible to understand.

Business savvy—because it’s more about revenue than tech

Marketing has been around a long time. And a lot of things haven’t changed that much. You still need to find customers and for them to find you. You need to make it easy for them to understand what you’re selling, why they would want it, and how to buy it. You need to be there after the sale, especially in our age of subscription apps and services. You need to keep your promises and continually improve, so that your reputation stays clean and your word-of-mouth referrals continue to grow.   What has changed the most are the channels through which we find customers and they find us, and the ways we can help them as they move through their buying process. These channels change constantly and quickly. Which is why you need specialists who focus on each particular channel day in and day out. You need to know when something has changed, how customers are interacting with the messages and within the channels, how other companies are succeeding, and what you need to do when changes occur. But it’s not enough to have channel sophistication. You also have to have business sophistication. Your digital marketing services company has to have comprehensive experience helping their clients with these issues:
  • What are you trying to accomplish, and what’s the fastest and most cost-effective way to meet your goals?
  • Who are you up against, and how can you compete against them?
  • How do your customers buy your type of product or service, and what proof do they need before they will buy?
  • What will cause them to avoid you or leave you?
  • What’s the most important problem you can solve for them (in their minds, not yours) and what’s the best way to explain your solution?
  • What opportunities—and built-in conflicts—exist with your business partners?
  • How should you position yourselves to take full advantage of your unique and impressive difference?
You can’t just Google this stuff. Well, yes, of course you could. But the results will be agenda-driven (“Have this problem? Try our solution!”), not necessarily relevant to your specific situation, and seldom providing an appropriate prescription that you can put to work. A real strategy partner will be your thinking partner, bringing deep personal experience to the table. “Yes, you could do that . . . but then you’d have another problem: You’d be dealing with this.” “That’s a great idea, what if we took this approach with it?” For every action and decision there are ramifications to consider and possibilities that can be exploited. Experience with these situations can predict the ramifications. Experience solving the problems recognizes the solutions that work—and the ones that don’t. No matter how digital the world becomes, integrity and strategy still matter. In fact, they matter more, in an age where most interactions are virtual, the channels are rife with fake solutions, and a slick facade can hide a non-trustworthy character.

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Creating a successful company—in spite of yourself https://zhivagopartners.com/blog/creating-a-successful-company-in-spite-of-yourself/ https://zhivagopartners.com/blog/creating-a-successful-company-in-spite-of-yourself/#respond Tue, 30 Oct 2018 21:10:16 +0000 https://zhivagopartners.com/?p=29269 “You are your own worst enemy.” This harsh reality of life isn’t as impactful when you’re not in a position of leadership. But if you are leading others in some effort—and for this post, I’m going to focus on leadership in business—your weaknesses become a serious impediment to success, because they have a direct effect on everything you’re trying to do, everyone you interact with, and especially everyone who works for you.

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“You are your own worst enemy.” This harsh reality of life isn’t as impactful when you’re not in a position of leadership. But if you are leading others in some effort—and for this post, I’m going to focus on leadership in business—your weaknesses become a serious impediment to success, because they have a direct effect on everything you’re trying to do, everyone you interact with, and especially everyone who works for you. Believe it or not, there is a simple way to be successful in spite of yourself.  First, let’s look at some examples drawn from recent real life, using fictional names to protect the identity of the real people, where weaknesses are a barrier to success:
  • David has not kept up with technology, and finds the simplest technical task difficult, requiring constant help. This distracts and slows down everyone who must help him, keeping them from doing their regular, critical work.
  • Brenda spends too much time discussing and not enough time deciding. Even though she is the company’s leader, and everyone needs her to decide before they can make the next move, she just can’t make a decision. Projects get stalled and morale suffers. Good people like to get things done; Brenda’s good people will start looking for a better place to work.
  • Ted learned, from his gruff father, that people in a position of authority are allowed to embarrass their employees in front of others. He thinks that is a good strategy, so he does it in just about every meeting. Ted has a good heart, and his employees know it, so they stay longer than you’d think. But he will never enjoy the amazing rapport and respect that develops between workers and a boss who praises in public but only chastises in private.
  • Kathy is better at making promises to customers than she is fulfilling those promises. Yes, it’s because she is so busy, but it is also because she hasn’t yet faced the fact that this is a problem, and hasn’t taken the system, process, and delegation steps to solve it. She works long hours in an attempt to keep these promises, instead of creating a system that helps her delegate and gives her full visibility to the promises she has made to customers and the current status of those projects.
Letting these weaknesses remain without finding, facing, and fixing them, will limit the growth of your company. Your organization will not be able to grow beyond your weakness, and your weakness will affect the very nature of the company. All of the characteristics described above will keep something essential from happening—such as keeping up with technology; not being able to make decisions and take action; employees who are on edge, resentful, and surly; tasks that should be done but are not. In short, one of the biggest keys to success in business is to get out of your own way.

How to be successful in spite of yourself

Being a leader is a big responsibility. But it doesn’t have to be stressful. Stress comes from two sources: 1) We know we should do something, but we avoid doing it; and 2) we worry needlessly that we are going to fail, when in fact, once we set out to do something, failure doesn’t have to be an option. It is safe to assume that we will succeed simply because we won’t give up until we do. You can overcome your particular weaknesses by using the Find It, Face It, Fix It method. But you will need help, starting with finding it.

Find It

As you interact with employees, customers and partners, you should be asking, every so often, “Is there something I could be doing better?” Most people will be more than happy—and prepared—to answer that question as soon as you ask it. However, if you don’t ask it, they will never say. Their dissatisfaction will only grow.  The fact that they are so prepared to answer the question will give you a Big Fat Hint—that they’ve been noticing it, thinking about it, and wishing there was something they could do about it—but were afraid to bring it up. If you ask, they will answer. Then you can ask for their help. They will be pleased to help you; if you solve that problem, their jobs will get easier.

Face It

This is the hardest part. We like to see ourselves a certain way, and when we learn something about ourselves that doesn’t agree with our self-perception, we tend to resist the thought. But if your employees, customers, or partners see it, it’s real, and it’s a problem. Assume that when you ask, you will get the sugar-coated version. People like to be polite. Facing it is not easy; in fact, it’s probably the hardest thing we must do in our lives on a day-to-day basis. First we need to avoid defensiveness. “But I was doing my best.” “That certainly wasn’t my intent.” “I was under a lot of stress that day.” All of these statements may be true, but these statements reflect how we’re thinking of the issue, which is: “That wasn’t my fault.” But if you are weak in an area, it is your fault. In most cases, we don’t want these things to be our fault because we hate to think we are less than perfect, we have high standards for ourselves, and we feel really bad about ourselves when we screw up. We actually magnify the deficiency in our own minds. “He said I talk too much. I must be a terrible boss. I must really be dominating meetings.” These “take one thing and blow it up out of proportion” thoughts don’t do us any good. If you talk too much, all you have to do is face it and fix it. You just need to find opportunities to talk less. You’re not a terrible person; you’re just someone who needs to learn a new lesson. The sooner we get to this place in our adult lives, the sooner life gets much more peaceful—and the sooner we become more successful.

Fix it

So now you know that something needs fixing, and you’ve faced it for what it is, realistically. Now is the time to take action. Nothing frustrates workers more than a manager who knows there is a problem, and now understands the problem, and then . . . does nothing. This is the single most frustrating aspect of manager-worker relations that I have witnessed in my working life, and it is one of the biggest impediments to building a successful business. It is the fuel that drives the conversations between workers, out of the manager’s hearing. It is the burr under their saddle that chafes every day, and makes them dread coming to work. It is the main reason that good people quit. Now, all you managers reading this may be thinking, “Yes, but sometimes there is a perfectly good reason to delay.” And yes, you are right. But rather than being silent about that reality, tell your workers: “I understand, and I’m going to do something about it. I have a few things that I need to do beforehand. I will keep you updated.” They can live with this. They will go back to work, no longer distracted by the concern that you won’t take action. Of course, then you do need to take action. If the problem drags on with no word from you, all that destructive negativity will start to bloom again, tainting the atmosphere and making people miserable and disheartened. You’re the boss. The people who work for you, the customers who buy from you, and the partners who partner with you—are depending on you to find it, face it, and fix it. And, as you do that, they expect you to be open with them about what you’re doing, so they can relax and go back to work knowing that you are handling it. No business has to suffer because its leader has weaknesses. You will overcome them all if you continually find it, face it, and fix it.

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What it takes to be a successful entrepreneur https://zhivagopartners.com/blog/what-it-takes-to-be-a-successful-entrepreneur/ https://zhivagopartners.com/blog/what-it-takes-to-be-a-successful-entrepreneur/#respond Tue, 23 Oct 2018 18:38:35 +0000 https://zhivagopartners.com/?p=29185 I’m going to tell you some secrets in this article about what it really takes to become a successful entrepreneur. Things you won’t read elsewhere. Things that make the difference between steady, solid growth and downright disaster.

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I’m going to tell you some secrets in this article about what it really takes to become a successful entrepreneur. Things you won’t read elsewhere. Things that make the difference between steady, solid growth and downright disaster. Yep, that’s what is at stake, once you decide to go out on your own. Entrepreneurs are made, not born. The making of the entrepreneur usually starts while the budding entrepreneur is working elsewhere, or involved in some sort of outside pursuit, such as a hobby or offering some services on the side that people are willing to pay for. At some point, the budding entrepreneur decides that it’s time to go off on his or her own, and the adventure begins. When done right, it can be one of the most satisfying things you can do with your life. That’s what I want for you, which is why I’m sharing these secrets. I’m going to divide this real-world advice—describing the characteristics of successful entrepreneurs—into five categories: Character, Customers, Infrastructure, Money, and Government.

Character: It matters most of all.

Business is a cooperative endeavor. Nice people make more money than jerks do, for the most part. Jerks don’t work well with others. They are anti-cooperators. Jerks make for engrossing entertainment—almost everyone in business portrayed in movies are jerks—but in real life, the jerk ratio in most industries is very, very low. Even lawyers are nicer in real life. This is assuming we are talking about legitimate, legal business. If you are doing something illegal, you can stop reading now; I’m not talking to you. You and your fellow jerks will not have a pleasant time of it, as you spend your life looking over your shoulder and wrestling with your conscience. Most people who start businesses (these are the non-jerks) have looked around and thought, “People need this product or service. I can help,” and off they go. So they are naturally helpful. That’s a good start, but it’s not enough. You also have to be tough as nails while you are being helpful. While business is about helping people, it’s also about being watchful and careful. It’s a jungle out there. When you start a business, you become someone who “owns” something, which changes your status in the world. You need to see that and understand it, and make it part of your reality. It’s about how you treat people, and how you expect people to treat you. For example, if you have a low opinion of yourself, you will undercharge and over trust. Some people will take advantage of you, and others will worry about your inability to lead. So be realistic about your talents, without being cocky (cockiness is the surest way to fail, in any business). Make a point of dropping emotional baggage as soon as you realize it’s there. A friend might say something to you, or a customer might, and you will realize that you can improve your behavior in an area. Whatever it is, fix it, fast. Running a business is one of the fastest ways to grow up and become a well-balanced, calm, and wise adult. Treat people as you wish you would be treated. Business is an exchange—of ideas, service, products, and money. Be fair, be honest, be squeaky clean in all your dealings. If a problem arises, face it immediately, admit fault (even if it wasn’t “you” but someone who worked for you—because they work for you, it is your fault). Never gossip, never play one person against another, never withhold information for your own gain. Why is this important? Well, first, because if you do that, you will end up living a regret-free life, which is the best kind of life to live. In other words, you don’t want to be old someday and full of regrets. That really sucks. You want to get older knowing that you did the right and kind thing in all situations. Second, if you do succeed, you will be serving as an example for others and quite literally giving hope to and inspiring others. If you do things that you regret, people will know it and you won’t be the shining example they were hoping you’d be. How many times have we seen someone in a position of power and admiration be “outed” for some sleazy behavior—such as abuse, cheating financially, or cheating on a spouse? It all falls apart, then, never to be recovered. Third, you’re not fooling anyone, even in the little things. Being late and lying about why you were late; charging a bit more than you should; letting someone else take the blame for something . . . these are all little things, but they add up, and other people notice. People who buy things from you, and people who work with you or for you, want to be able to trust you. If they suspect that they can’t, they will find a way to stop interacting with you. It’s one of the most important traits of a successful entrepreneur: being someone that others can trust. By the way, if you follow this advice, you will be a good manager. You will give your workers the support and leadership they need to get their work done. You will be kind and helpful, but also tough as nails when someone behaves in a way not in keeping with the “good guy” characteristics. So yes, character matters most of all.

Customers: Without them, you don’t have a business

This seems obvious, but I’ve worked with hundreds of companies, from the single-owner companies to IBM, and every size of business in between. As a revenue coach, the first thing I always did, after getting the “company” side of the story, was to interview their customers. And every single time—yes, every single time—the “company” view of customer needs and experiences was completely different than the customer’s view. Even if the company people interacted with customers all day long. See, customers don’t tell you what they’re really thinking while they are buying from you. Instead, they are watching for those telltale character signs, and deciding if they can trust you or even if you care. Example: When they call, do they get “press one for this and two for that, and if we don’t give you an option you want, tough?” Or, do the choices give them a way, for example, to talk to a human immediately? Or, better yet, does a human being answer the phone on the first ring? It is easier than you think, even as a sole entrepreneur, to take your eyes off the prize, and get swallowed up by the other aspects of the business—building the product, creating systems, working with others, dealing with complex governmental regulations, doing accounting and marketing and sales and fulfillment, fixing things that break, and on and on. You can work from dawn to the wee hours of the morning without interacting with—and focusing on—customers. Plus, the assumptions you make about them and their desires come out of your own experience. But people buy things for very specific and often subtle reasons, based on their own experience. For example, others in your industry may have made and broken certain promises, over and over again (“User-friendly!” “Simple to use!” “No assembly required!”), which means that when you show up, they’re already burned and skeptical. And, they can have the strangest or least-obvious reasons for buying certain things. Only by interviewing customers who have already bought from you (notice I did not say “surveying”—surveys come from your head, not theirs) can you find out what those reasons are. My book goes into great detail on how to do this. Don’t guess, it’s fatal. I guarantee that at this moment, someone is looking for you and can’t find you (because you don’t understand how they’d look for you and you haven’t done what you should to make sure you’re found that way), or they have found you and have decided, without even talking to you, that they don’t want to buy from you. Those are sales you should and could have made, if you understood what your customers really wanted from you and how they wanted to buy from you.

Infrastructure: You’re only as good as your apps.

Apps are where it’s at now. The software industry has grown up enough to be creating functional software that actually works (mostly) the way you do, instead of forcing you to change how you work to accommodate the software. “There’s an app for that!” is what you should be thinking. However, your apps are only as good as your systems and the way you think about and organize your work. For example, of course you want your apps to streamline your work processes, subtracting the steps needed for any process. But you also have to be realistic about what still might need to be done by a human being. I read recently that Amazon accounted for something like 70 percent of all retail sales during the Christmas season of 2017. Why am I bringing this up here? Because, when Amazon first emerged, I thought to myself, “Hmmm. Interesting. This is the first time a tech company made the infrastructure their focus, not their product.” Yes, Amazon started out selling books. But it wasn’t the books that made them successful; it was their ability to make it easy for the customer to buy. They made promises—1-click ordering; Amazon Prime; reviews and suggestions by other customers; see what other people looked at; etc.—and they delivered. Business is now very, very competitive. It’s easier than ever to start a business, no matter where you are or what you do. That bar is much, much lower than it used to be. But. Customer expectations are also way, way higher than they used to be. If you sell online, you are automatically selling against the customer expectations set by Amazon. Whatever you’re selling, whatever you’re promising (and selling is nothing more than promises), you better be able to deliver, or you will forever be fighting your own, well-earned negative reputation. That’s the other thing that has changed. Any customer who has bought from you has plenty of opportunity to tell others to steer clear. Your systems will really be terrible if you don’t start learning how to create good ones. You can use a program such as LucidChart to create flow charts of processes; always diagram them, even if it’s on a whiteboard in your office or your iPad (GoodNotes is great for hand-drawn diagrams). Look at them, think about where they are getting bogged down. Start with what the customer expects and work backwards. Whatever system you create, it should be flexible and transparent. You should be able to look at it and see what’s going on, in seconds, without a lot of digging, so you can make good decisions based on what you see. And, if something in a system—or the system itself—isn’t working well, you need to get really aggressive about changing it for the better. You can promise great stuff to customers all day, but if your systems aren’t working, you won’t be able to deliver. Keep up with the latest applications; watch what others in your business are doing; constantly be looking for new ways to automate and streamline your business. I have never, ever regretted investing wisely—but somewhat aggressively—on the tools necessary to make the business run smoothly. It pays.

Money: Make more than you spend.

I’m sure some of you newbies are rolling your eyes right now, saying, “Well, duh!” But anyone who has been in business more than six months knows that it is ridiculously easy to spend more than you’re bringing in. Businesses need to be built. Most of what you will do will be supported by software, probably cloud-based, subscription applications. Those costs add up. Then there are the people whose work supports the infrastructure, not directly related to the product or service that you offer. And all the other overhead you need—computers, office equipment, that sort of thing. In the first heady flush of excitement starting a business, it’s easy to get carried away with spending, using a credit card or your savings or a loan. This is when you need to be very, very careful. Instead, your goal is to literally be profitable from day one. Sounds crazy, but it is possible; I’ve done it several times. And yes, it depends on the type of business you’re starting. But thinking “I have to be profitable from day one” forces you to make sure you have income before you start spending. Another goal: Take 15 – 20 percent of every single check you get and put it into savings. Don’t worry, you’ll survive on the remaining 80 – 85 percent. That is the sure way to make sure that when something bad happens—and it will—you will be able to get through it. You should make sure you have at least two months of operating money in a separate savings account or money market fund, at all times. Cash flow can be a really big problem. And there are always those pesky tax payments that come due, and you need money to pay them. Which brings us to The Government.

Government: Too complex, too arbitrary, too powerful to deal with on your own.

The problem with regulations is they can be changed at the whim of the regulators, leaving you, in many cases, with the sudden realization that you’re in trouble—even if you have always done everything above board and have followed all the rules. At the very least, hire a decent accountant. Pay attention to basic trends, and keep asking the accountant how this might affect your business. And for goodness sake, every single time you interact with a government official of any type, “get it in writing.” If you mail your tax payments, send them by certified mail. If you get advice from someone in the government, have them send it to you in an email or a letter. I say this because they can, and do, change the rules, and can come back to you and say, “Oh, yes, that’s true that we gave that advice to everyone two years ago. But it’s changed now. Did you get it in writing?” One changed regulation can put you out of business, say, if they change a sales tax law and require that you pay back taxes for the last three years because you didn’t get it in writing. And never try to cheat the government. It’s not worth it. It’s so much better to stand in front of an auditor with a clear conscience, knowing that they may find some honest mistakes but no intentional deception.


That’s enough advice to keep you out of the most debilitating traps. Best of luck to you, I commend you for striking out on your own. It takes guts. But it will also be one of the most rewarding things you have ever done.

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What’s really happening in sales—including Account-Based Marketing—and what works now https://zhivagopartners.com/blog/whats-working-now-in-sales-kristin-zhivago/ https://zhivagopartners.com/blog/whats-working-now-in-sales-kristin-zhivago/#respond Mon, 17 Sep 2018 20:33:35 +0000 https://zhivagopartners.com/?p=28576 Traditional sales methods aren’t working anymore. We all know what’s wrong:

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Traditional sales methods aren’t working anymore. We all know what’s wrong:
  • Customers have dozens of places to find answers to their questions about our products and services, including company and competitive websites; shopping sites; social platforms; and especially information provided by other customers (in reviews, “questions answered,” and discussion groups). I used to say that by the time they needed to talk to a salesperson, about 60 to 80 percent of their questions were answered. Now I’d say it’s more like 95 percent.
  • Customers have become expert at avoiding our advances. Phone calls are not answered; voicemail messages are not returned; emails are trashed and/or ignored; and even outreach via LinkedIn has gotten sufficiently crowded, rendering the channel less effective.
  • Salespeople are not great researchers or writers, and yet we continue to ask them to find new prospects and reach out to them.
  • Salespeople are not natural “nurturers.” They are reactive, always more inclined to go after the hot and immediate than the slow-simmering opportunities. And, if not supported by an incredibly ironclad system, they don’t follow up as they should. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen salespeople drop the ball, even when the customer is actually hoping the salesperson will call.
You would think, in the face of all this evidence, that sales managers would be looking for another way. But they are not. They are just doing the same things they’ve always done, while their bosses are wondering what the heck is wrong and are getting really worried.

What is working now: Successful selling strategies

The first place to start is to realize which people should be in the right jobs. We have a new client, Rainee Busby, who helps her clients become more efficient and better-managed. One of the first things she works on is the right people in the right jobs. When I was a rent-a-VP, hired to turn around marketing and sales departments, the first thing I did was to interview customers, so I could understand what we should be doing in marketing and sales. The second thing I did was to meet with each person in the department and ask them, “What do you love doing, and what do you hate doing?” I would then fashion their jobs to accommodate their preferences. Morale and departmental effectiveness always went up as a result. Recently, I was reading one of the Entrepreneurial Operating System books (Rainee is an EOS  practitioner, and the book I was reading is “How to Be a Great Boss,” which is worth reading), and I came across a great story about a big box store that was languishing until they put in a new manager. When he took over, he asked people if they wanted to be a “box” person or a “people” person. Within a few months, that store become one of the top performers, largely due to that change. The second thing I need to mention is Account-Based Marketing (ABM). Yes, we do it for our clients, and that’s what we call it, but frankly, as it is normally practiced, it is just “sales best practices” by another name. We are making adjustments, though, so it will work better. For starters, we recognize that salespeople are not great researchers and writers. And we move many of the “nurturing” activities out of sales and into marketing. These are the roles that selling now consists of:
    1. Research.The needed information is all out there now; you can look up any company or individual employee and learn all kinds of things, characterizing and ranking that company and individual as a hot, warm, or cold (“don’t bother”) prospect, and understanding a lot about them before you get them on the phone. Yes, you have to pay for the tools. Yes, you should not leave this to salespeople; they are, by nature, not the researching types. Someone else, who is very good at this, should be doing the research and providing all the information the salesperson needs to reach out.
    2. Writing. And when it is time to reach out, a professional copywriter should be writing the emails, tweets, LinkedIn, and voicemail messages. Each message can be personalized, including something about the person that proves that research was done. Customers know you can look them up; they are almost insulted if you call them without doing that first. Why should they pay any attention to you, if you haven’t at least first paid attention to them?
    3. Appointment-setting.You’ve probably gathered by now that we are mostly talking about heavy- or intense-scrutiny purchases (a topic I cover thoroughly in my book) where, at some point, the customer will want to talk to a salesperson during a phone call, to discuss their particular situation and get specific questions answered. Setting appointments is still a very inefficient process, as it is still mostly done by exchanging emails until the mutually convenient appointment slot is agreed upon. Not the best use of your salesperson’s time.
    4. Answering questions. This is another area that is massively affecting the whole selling scene. Most managers are just putting their heads in the sand about it, hoping the whole mess will go away. It won’t. The “mess” is that we still think we need “closers.” The truth is, the traditional pushy closer loses more sales than he secures. When you have on your BUYER hat, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The pushy salesperson’s agenda causes all of these problems:
        1. They don’t listen in a way where they really hear what you are saying. They only listen enough to find an opportunity to begin their rant.
        2. They don’t realize that YOU, the buyer, have an agenda, and that YOU already want to buy, or you wouldn’t be taking the time to talk to them.
        3. They don’t acknowledge and respect how much research you’ve already done and listen carefully while you tell them where you are in your buying process. In fact, they often ignore this reality completely and try to move you to the beginning of your buying process, when in fact, you are almost at the end.
        4. They don’t answer the questions you ask (or are trying to ask). Instead of answering your legitimate and pressing questions, they answer the questions they know how to answer.
      1. They push to close before you’re ready. In fact, during a single call, they may push to close several times. This is irritating and insulting; no one wants to be a “mark.” Traditional selling and marketing have always treated customers as marks; the language alone is anti-humane. “We’re going to go after our target market with a rifle approach,” says the marketer. “I’m going to overcome their objections,” says the salesperson. If someone came into your house and started saying that they were going to do this to you, you’d want them to leave.
  1. Helping the customer make the right decision. The most effective “salespeople” aren’t salespeople at all. They are naturally helpful individuals who get up in the morning hoping to help as many people as they can during the day. They often end up working in customer service, but these types of people are certainly not limited to customer service. Personally, I think as more managers get a clue, we are going to find a new type of person to help customers make buying decisions. I have no idea what the title will be, but I think of the person as a Buying Decision Guide. In the absence of companies hiring these people, there are now sites carrying out this role. In the software industry, the sites are Capterra, G2Crowd, GetApp, and Trust Radius, which use customer reviews to help others buy software.

Guiding instead of selling

Imagine, if you will, the pleasure of working with someone who has a deep understanding of his own product or service, as well as those offered by the competition, and has plenty of comparative and customer-generated information to back up his knowledge. Instead of trying to sell you on his solution, he spends the entire call listening carefully to what you are trying to accomplish. He helps you think through your tradeoffs. “Yes, we can do that, but only up to 25,000 items. If you have more than 25,000 items, you probably need a different e-commerce application.” As buyers, we love this idea. As sellers, it scares us to death. But I can tell you, from personal experience (and performance—my “closing rate” hovers around 85 – 95 percent), that this objective, helpful approach leads to more business than you can imagine. Why? Because buying something is driven first by desire and skepticism, and then by a willingness to compromise here and there as you find something that comes close, all while being guided by someone who is super helpful. We are all eager to give our business to someone who “deserves” it, even if their solution isn’t exactly what we had in mind at the start. Or even if their solution is more expensive. Going back to the various roles involved in selling, what does this really mean to your business? It means that you should find a way to fill those roles, so you are selling in a way that makes sense for today’s buyers. Fortunately, sometimes you can find one person to fill a couple of roles, such as the researcher also being able to write great outreach materials and make appointments. And one helpful person might be able to answer questions and help the customer make the right buying decision. Buyers are far, far ahead of sellers these days, armed with resources that were simply not available even a few years ago. Sellers are still pretending that buyers are still living in the dark ages. If you want to get in sync with buyers—and to out-”sell” your competition—you will embrace the new reality and run with it.

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How to manage digital marketing: Three game-changing strategies https://zhivagopartners.com/blog/how-to-manage-digital-marketing-3-key-strategies-kristin-zhivago/ https://zhivagopartners.com/blog/how-to-manage-digital-marketing-3-key-strategies-kristin-zhivago/#respond Tue, 04 Sep 2018 17:10:36 +0000 https://zhivagopartners.com/?p=28161 Digital marketing is not easily managed. It’s got a lot of moving parts, and there are not as many hard and fast rules as we would like (or as digital marketing consultants tend to imply). In this piece, I’m going to reveal three strategies that, if you put them to use, will put you head and shoulders above your competitors.

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Digital marketing is not easily managed. It’s got a lot of moving parts, and there are not as many hard and fast rules as we would like (or as digital marketing consultants tend to imply). In this piece, I’m going to reveal three strategies that, if you put them to use, will put you head and shoulders above your competitors.

Digital marketing management strategy #1: Hire the best people

I can’t stress this enough, which is why it’s the first item on the list. There are a number of agencies and marketing departments out there managed by generalists and staffed with interns. This is a mistake. One of the ironclad truths about digital marketing right now is that the tools and channels change constantly. Only someone who is specialized in an area will be able to keep up with that area sufficiently. Someone who specializes in Google Ads (which, until recently, was called Google AdWords) will know when Google changes its navigational interface (which, again, it did recently). And, not only will that person be up to date on what Google is doing, but on what customers are doing in reaction to the ads being placed. There is no substitute for experience in digital marketing, because the basic nature of digital marketing is interactive. Google has to rank you based on your ability to select the right keywords to be ranked for, and on your quality score, which includes a number of factors such as associated landing pages, how your ads have performed in the past, and how many people are actually clicking on your ads. What you do with your campaign, and how people react to your campaign, are affecting Google’s algorithms. Customers click on your ad—or not. They then go to your site or landing page, stay a while, look at other things on your site, and/or make a purchase—or not. Based on this behavior, Google then decides when and how to place you, relative to your competitors, going forward. Which then determines the new decisions you need to make and the actions you need to take. It’s an iterative process requiring constant attention. Someone who creates and places ads all the time, and then observes how Google behaves and how the customer behaves, is able to make better and better decisions about how to optimize a campaign. People without this experience will make poor decisions. It’s that simple.

Digital marketing management strategy #2: Hire for skills, then character

Before you do anything else, look at the person’s portfolio. This is more important than ever. We are finding now that many people are good at talking about themselves; presenting themselves nicely in an interview (even video interviews!); maybe even writing decent messages back and forth; but, upon investigation (or after being given a test of their talents), their work is definitely sub-par. After you have determined that they have the skills, you need to determine if their character will work in your organization. In the freelance world, you can start by reading reviews from their previous projects; in the full-time world, you will (of course) call references. A caveat about calling references, and even about reading reviews. People in business are mostly polite; if they were not, they would not succeed in business. So, they tend to hold back on negative comments. While these businesspeople may have stopped working with someone for perfectly good reasons (the person was a diva; the person kept making promises and didn’t deliver; the person was negative about others; etc.), they may not want to say that in the person’s review or even in a reference phone call. You have to be a detective, and read between the lines. For example, if you are hiring a freelancer and they have several so-so numerical rankings (say, 3.5 out of 5), with no comments, or even a number of 5 rankings with no comments, that’s a red flag. Especially if the projects were short-lived. There are no comments because they didn’t want to commit. Or if you are calling for references and the person keeps giving you very non-committal answers, the best thing to do is to help them tell you what they really think without asking straight on. “Can you give me any advice about the best way to manage this person?” That question usually uncovers the negatives without the person you’re talking to feeling like they are saying something negative. “Well, she works better on her own than in a group,” he will say about the diva. “You will want to break projects into smaller portions and give specific deadlines for each portion,” is what she will say about the person who has trouble meeting deadlines. “She will need to be reminded about her opinions from time to time,” he will say, about the negative person.   You will want to hire people who lift others up, not drag them down. Ask them how they feel about the work they do, including their successes and frustrations. Listen to how they describe others. Were they frustrated by something they could or should have fixed? Did they tend to blame others, and for what? Were their successes “all about me?” As with the reference calls, people tell you more “between the lines” than they do by what they actually say.

Digital marketing management strategy #3: Learn digital marketing tools and techniques—not to master them, but to manage the people using them

There are so many businesses out there right now, founded and still being run by people in their 50’s and 60’s, who are still vital and accomplished businesspeople. But technology has left them behind. Frankly, in the digital marketing world, technology is even leaving younger folks behind. There are just so many aspects to it now; it’s become deep and wide, and very specialized. Keeping up with just one area, such as social marketing, ads, SEO, account-based marketing, influencer marketing, content marketing, email marketing, CRMs, competitive and customer research, and more—are full-time jobs all by themselves. Google changes its algorithm regularly, usually without warning or a definitive explanation of the change. Rules about the length of meta descriptions and tweets can change in a blink. New requirements can emerge and become standard almost overnight (think GDPR). Your job, as a manager, is not to try to master these tools and techniques. We see a lot of entrepreneurs trying to make up for their tech-behindedness by trying to DIY. Big mistake. You can’t run a business and be as good or better than all the specialists in a given area. You can, however, hire excellent specialists—people who don’t hold their cards close to their chests but who are secure enough in their own profession to be able to answer your questions and educate you. This is important because when it comes to graphics, copy, best practices, standard operating procedures, website creation, and more, it’s obvious to any outsider (including potential customers, partners, and industry analysts), when a professional did the work and when an amateur did the work. Face it: If you are not a specialist who spends all your time on that specialty, you are an amateur. If you are willing to learn—and it is impossible to succeed now if you are not—you can learn enough to manage digital marketing specialists. And, by managing the specialists effectively, hiring good ones and helping them do their best work, you will be able to spend more time on the trajectory of your business.

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How to eliminate selling’s fatal flaw https://zhivagopartners.com/blog/how-to-eliminate-sellings-fatal-flaw-kristin-zhivago/ https://zhivagopartners.com/blog/how-to-eliminate-sellings-fatal-flaw-kristin-zhivago/#respond Wed, 18 Jul 2018 20:09:42 +0000 https://zhivagopartners.com/?p=27891 The fundamental problem with selling—and the behavior of salespeople—is that when you are selling the usual way, someone has to win.

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The fundamental problem with selling—and the behavior of salespeople—is that when you are selling the usual way, someone has to win. Salespeople are rewarded when they win by:
  • “Overcoming objections,” which is really another way of saying “winning the argument.”
  • Changing the customer’s way of thinking to their way of thinking.
  • Beating out the competitors—who are telling the customer terrible things about their solution—and they need to convince the customer of the opposite.
All this is about winning. And the problem with that mindset is that in order for one person to win, the other person has to lose. The core of these interactions are adversarial. That’s the seller’s perspective, and it’s objectionable. As a general rule, human beings do what they can to avoid conflict. That’s why buyers never tell sellers what they’re really thinking; they don’t want the seller to get an advantage by picking up on some minor detail and setting upon it like a pitbull.

A new way of selling: Anti-selling

There is another way, and that is to approach each interaction with a prospective customer on their wavelength, and to use that perspective to help the customer make the absolute best decision. I see anti-selling as a five-step process:
  1. Change your state of mind. Stop trying to win; it only gets in the way. It makes you seem hungry and determined to get the better of the customer, which is not going to endear you to them. If you can’t stand the idea of “not” winning, this will be very difficult for you, and you are not going to be able to do the other steps. You can stop reading now.
  2. Take the time to understand your customer. Yes, you should have visited their site and their LinkedIn page before you get on the phone with them. But it goes beyond that. It means you need to listen. Carefully. Not listening in preparation to speak, but simply listening and thinking. This ensures that you will end up having a real conversation with the person. The person will sense that you are truly listening, and will calm down. They will see that you do not have your fists up, ready to fight, but that you are figuratively lighting your pipe and sitting back, ready to listen.  
  3. Answer all of their questions, without pitching. For anyone who has sold for a while, this is going to be very difficult. Salespeople are trained to pitch; expected to pitch; and love to pitch. They love being the one who knows it all, and can recite it by heart, chapter and verse. But on the buyer side of the equation, no one wants to be sold to. They want help. They want to understand, and they want to learn. And they will only learn if the source of the information is a trusted source.
  4. Listen for the subtleties. In the thousands of customer interviews I have done, someone would answer “Yes,” but it wasn’t a confident “yes.” It was a doubtful “yes,” as if they had said, “Well, I guess so, but maybe not.” The doubt was an invitation. What they were really saying was, “Don’t assume, just because I said yes, that I really meant yes.” They were inviting me to hear that doubt and pursue it. I would follow up with something like, “That doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement. Was there an issue?” Relieved, knowing they had been heard, they would then open up and tell me the whole story.
  5. Forget winning. Strive to understand how you can best help. The most ironic thing about walking away from the need to win is that you “win” more. Think about heroes in movies. They are always the calmest guy in the room; the “losers” are the ones who are anxious, whiny, pushy, and needy. Actors don’t even need to say anything; as the camera pans the room, we know immediately and intuitively who the hero is. We recognize that leader and are drawn to him or her.
You will still need to make all your calls, and do all that is expected of you. We are only rewarded for our efforts if we make an effort. But success in business, and in selling, is driven by the quest to understand how we can help that person best. Every person you encounter will sense that is your agenda and will be glad for it, and will strive to give you their business because you are striving to help them, rather than trying to “win” at their expense.

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Love, logic, and your bottom line https://zhivagopartners.com/blog/love-logic-and-your-bottom-line-kristin-zhivago/ https://zhivagopartners.com/blog/love-logic-and-your-bottom-line-kristin-zhivago/#comments Mon, 16 Jul 2018 04:30:40 +0000 https://zhivagopartners.com/?p=27772 Love. What is love? At its most basic, it is you taking good care of someone who is depending on you. Paying attention to them, giving them the help they need, communicating with them, and being generous with your comfort and your time. In business, love is an essential ingredient, if not the driving ingredient. No one talks about it much, but it’s true. If your customers and workers feel that you’re taking care of them, they will be glad to stick around.

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Love. What is love? At its most basic, it is you taking good care of someone who is depending on you. Paying attention to them, giving them the help they need, communicating with them, and being generous with your comfort and your time. In business, love is an essential ingredient, if not the driving ingredient. No one talks about it much, but it’s true. If your customers and workers feel that you’re taking care of them, they will be glad to stick around. Logic. Business must be logical. Everything we do must make sense to customers, managers, and workers. In fact, one of the most sure-fire ways to make sure everyone stays loyal to your business is to be logical. Illogical management puts everyone on edge and distracts them from moving forward with confidence. Logical management (making wise and fair decisions with the data available) calms their concerns. People inside the company think, “OK, that makes sense. That answers my questions, and now I know what to do.” People outside the company think, “Oh, good. That makes sense. I don’t have to worry about this company shooting itself in the foot.” Your Bottom Line. As a revenue coach, I’ve spent most of my time focusing on growing the top line—gross revenue flowing in. We all have to start there, of course. Without enough revenue to pay the bills and have profit left over, you won’t be in business long. The bottom line is what remains after you have made best use of your company’s revenue: to pay your people, to equip the business with tools, to create products and services, and to pay for marketing, sales, services, interest, and taxes. In order to make best use of our revenue and have enough bottom line remaining to live on and put some savings aside, we have to exercise an appropriate balance of love and logic. Let’s look at these two business essentials.

The role that love plays in your business

These days, as human beings, we are glued to our phones to the point where we pay much less attention to those depending on us. In my mind, the latest popular psychological malady,  “attention deficit disorder,” is more about the lack of attention shown the child, not how little attention the child is paying to his or her surroundings. Children (and adults, as well) get disappointed and bored when the person who should be paying focused, caring attention to them is otherwise distracted. One of the first things an infant learns in life is who cares and who doesn’t. Which adults are making him more comfortable, attending to his needs? Which are making her less comfortable, either by ignoring her or actually harming her? By the time we become purchasing adults, this ability to sense who is “for” and who is “against” us is finely tuned, regardless of our overall level of sophistication. Customers, employees, partners, and vendors know perfectly well if you care about them or if you don’t. Millions of companies have tried to fake caring. It never works. Companies don’t care if:
  • The leader of the business is only in it for the money
  • The company has become so large that no one really cares about anything but their political status
  • The core mission of the company has nothing to do with caring for people. I remember one entrepreneur in Silicon Valley whose main motivation for starting his company was to show all the other more-famous silicon chip engineers that he was smarter than they were. His company failed.
If you are in business to help people to solve problems that people have your chances of succeeding are great. Even as markets and technologies change, if you stay close to your customers, you will find new ways to help. People are happy to pay money for help.

Love and technology: The danger of automating relationships

As businesspeople, we are in love with tech. We use it all day, every day. I have nothing against tech; I have personally been fascinated with and was deeply involved in tech long before tech was cool. But I have also always been obsessed with how buyers buy and how sellers manage their interactions with customers and employees. I think we are asking too much of the automation, like expecting a vacuum cleaner to babysit our two-year-old. We’ve fallen so in love with tech that we are ignoring the absolute reality that human beings know when they are being cared for and when they are not. We are fooling ourselves, but we are not fooling them. Looking at this another way, what is the difference between someone stealing money from you versus you willing to pay for something? In the former case, you’re just a mark; the thief doesn’t care who you are or what you need. He is simply after your money. You know it, and after he steals it from you, you feel violated. In the latter case, a successful business owner has figured out what you want and need, and is doing everything possible to provide it. You know that, and you respond positively. “Thank you, that’s perfect. Here’s my money.” No sense of violation at all; in fact, you have a sense of satisfaction in money well spent. Two familiar examples of letting automation come between us and our customers:
  • Not answering the phone. If someone has a question, why can’t we build a structure that allows a real person to answer that question? Why do we force people to “press one for this and two for that?” Why do we wag our fingers at them, telling them that they must “listen very carefully, as our menu options have changed?” (Which, by the way, is usually a lie.) Long gone are the days when some nice person answers the phone on the second ring and says, “Oh, you need to talk to Bob. Hang on, I’ll get him for you.” When this happens now, it is almost surprising, and memorable. Freshbooks does that; when you call support, someone answers right away, figures out what you need quickly, and helps you out.
  • Having robots call our customers pretending to be real people. There is nothing more insulting than a recorded voice pretending to be listening and attempting to have a conversation with you. This is automated alienation.
I could go on about the way technology has gone too far, but you know about all this because as a consumer, you’ve been on the receiving end of it. We are starting to swing back from this total reliance on technology, as companies start to use chat more frequently on their sites. That’s a good trend, using tech to enable real people to interact with real people. That’s working well. It’s easier for a customer to hold a chat conversation while multitasking, and get a question answered, than it is to be go through voicemail hell and wait on hold on the phone listening to voicemail commercials.

Love and logic: A powerful combination

When we are both loving and logical, we succeed. It is actually quite logical: if you want to succeed, simply be loving. Employees come to work for you because they want to make a difference, to help others, to feel that what they are doing is meaningful. Partners decide to partner with you because they can tell that you take care of customers and you will take care of them, as well. Customers buy more from you because they know you care. Even if your product or service isn’t “perfect,” they will cut you a little slack because you care. But love without logic is not enough, not only in personal relationships, but in business as well. There are realities to face and decisions to be made. People depending on you need you to be logical. They know they can depend on you if you make sense. So loving and logic go hand-in-hand.

What does it take to be more caring?

  • Take really good care of those who work for you. You would think I’d mention customers first, but your employees, partners, and vendors are your first customers. If they are happy, they will be happy to work with you, to help your customers, and to refer others to the company. I swore off flying on United Airlines years ago, even thought I had 100,000 frequent flier miles in my account. I was tired of surly, snarling flight attendants. Years later a friend, who used to be a flight attendant for United, revealed why the United employees were so unhappy. They were treated very poorly by management, in ways that made them think that management didn’t care (and that management wasn’t logical). Unhappy employees create unhappy customers. Unhappy customers leave and never return. I started flying Southwest and have never looked back.
  • Stop treating your customers like a mark. If you’re trying to take something from someone rather than first figuring out exactly what they need, you’re treating them like a mark. That’s what happens when a salesperson reaches out to you without doing their research first. That’s what happens when you try to market and sell to people you’ve never interviewed. That’s what happens when your site is all about selling and there’s nothing there to help them understand, make an informed buying decision, or simply be educated on the subject.
  • Pay attention to subtleties. In the thousands of customer interviews I’ve conducted, I’ve always been struck by the importance of subtleties. When you are the customer, you know perfectly well when someone has a deep understanding of your problem. You know exactly what you want. There are even gating factors – it has to have this one thing, or you aren’t interested. You search and search, because too many companies invent and produce products without inviting customers to participate – and reveal their gating factors and subtle preferences.
  • Be organized and process-obsessive. If your employees or partners want to help your customers, but they can’t do it efficiently because your systems and processes are too difficult and too time-consuming, they will get frustrated and surly. They will also leave, so they can work for someone less disorganized.
  • Forget yourself. How many of us have worked for bosses who treated their employees like a captive audience? They complained, ranted, and confided things that they really shouldn’t have brought to the marketplace. It’s fine to share those important things – medical situations that affect work; graduations, marriages, christenings; and other significant changes in one’s life—but only when needed and only briefly, in order to inform rather than illicit sympathy.
  • Practice tough love when necessary. It is always better to release a poorly performing or disruptive employee sooner rather than later, or to even walk away from a client or customer who is making life unpleasant for everyone. The good people will always sigh with relief, because their ability to get their job done is always negatively affected. Keeping the company free from unnecessary negativity is one of the most important functions of a company’s leader.
  • Use technology to get closer, not to alienate. I’ve said all this above. But it’s a good idea to look at the different ways you interact with customers and ask yourself if the technology is a roadblock.
Writing this article has made me think back on the various entrepreneurs and CEOs I’ve worked with. They were always focused on a number of things, but never “love” or “logic.” And yet, as I grow my own company and continue to help others grow theirs, these two topics keep bubbling to the surface. I read in a novel recently how one woman respectfully described another: “Tender, but businesslike.” That’s a very powerful combination, one that instills both peace and confidence in others. And not a bad way to live.

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A reflection on our first-year anniversary: Following a roadmap to revenue growth https://zhivagopartners.com/blog/following-a-roadmap-to-revenue-growth-zhivago-partners/ https://zhivagopartners.com/blog/following-a-roadmap-to-revenue-growth-zhivago-partners/#respond Tue, 03 Jul 2018 18:02:13 +0000 https://zhivagopartners.com/?p=27621 Nice charts, eh? I’m pretty proud of our revenue growth (as shown in the top chart) as I reflect on our first-year anniversary.
We started with clients who came with us when I (amicably) parted from the previous company I had co-founded.
That first spike came in December from additional billings due to a one-off research project I did for a global company. Then, sales went back to their normal month-by-month improvement.

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Nice charts, eh? I’m pretty proud of our revenue growth (as shown in the top chart) as I reflect on our first-year anniversary. We started with clients who came with us when I (amicably) parted from the previous company I had co-founded. That first spike came in December from additional billings due to a one-off research project I did for a global company. Then, sales went back to their normal month-by-month improvement. The more recent plateau came from me reducing some services for a client when we realized they didn’t need all the site maintenance services we provide. They develop web-based applications for other companies and could do some of this work in-house; there was no reason for duplication of effort. (Karma is a wonderful thing when it comes to growing revenue; I have never, ever regretted doing the right thing for a client. New clients soon replaced that revenue.) Growth is great, but I am also careful about the speed of our growth, since we are a service business. I want clients to experience services that are constantly improving, no matter how fast we grow. The second chart shows progress over the last year on the number of keywords our site is being found for. Yes, this is SpyFu, a tool that is very useful for this type of data. As you can see, organic search marketing takes time, even when you’re using the best specialists and best methods. (For faster returns, also do AdWords.) The plateaus are the times where I cut back on the amount of blogging I was doing, while growing the company. Content production matters. (Of course, we don’t let up on content production when it comes to clients; our writers, managing editor, and production manager stick to a strict schedule.) Thinking about all of this, I am convinced that this is what growth looks like when:
  • You know what people need and you provide it in a way that works for them (I have the advantage of talking to clients constantly)
  • You hire dedicated specialists who work well together
  • You only work with clients who are kind, driven, and helpful
I confess: after years of being a revenue coach and helping other companies grow, it’s gratifying to build a company and manage our way through this kind of growth. It’s amazing to see what solid systems, a culture of helpfulness, and stellar people can do. All while continuing to help other companies grow! Honestly, I’m having more fun working than I ever have in my life, which is saying a lot, because I’ve always loved my work. But this is extra special.

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The marketing KPIs that lead to higher revenue https://zhivagopartners.com/blog/the-marketing-kpis-that-lead-to-higher-revenue/ https://zhivagopartners.com/blog/the-marketing-kpis-that-lead-to-higher-revenue/#comments Wed, 20 Jun 2018 17:33:29 +0000 https://zhivagopartners.com/?p=27357 As the CEO or owner of your company, you need to know if your marketing is working or not. So key performance indicators (KPIs) are important. We all know that. When it comes to KPIs for digital marketing, the problem is not so much a lack of data. There’s plenty of data, if you have the right tools and know where to look.

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As the CEO or owner of your company, you need to know if your marketing is working or not. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are important — we all know that. When it comes to KPIs for digital marketing, the problem is not so much a lack of data. There’s plenty of data, if you have the right tools and know where to look. The real inhibitors to gathering revenue-centric marketing KPIs are: the people building your dashboards don’t understand the basics of business; there is too much confusing and conflicting data; the data is often inconclusive; and the way that the data is reported and presented is often confusing. We’ll look at each of these problems and provide solutions. But first, I’d like to reveal one of the biggest elephants in the room, which is this:

You can’t do digital marketing without specialists, and many of them practice something I call “profit-driven secrecy.”

Digital marketing changes constantly. Those who are immersed in a particular aspect of it — the ones who are doing it right — are constantly learning and getting proficient with new methods and tools. Unfortunately, there are plenty of others who only learn enough to get along and who are slow to adopt the new ways (yes, even the younger ones). They will even stubbornly refuse to update to a new version of an application that a client’s site is based on because it’s too hard to learn. The way they see it, they make more money if they don’t stop what they’re doing to learn something new. And yes, one of our clients had this specific experience. A new version of their e-commerce app would have solved some major site problems for them, but their developer refused to learn it, install it, and put it to use. (Their former developer, obviously.) Developers get away with this because even though they are falling behind the times and not using the best methods, they still know more than their clients. And they want to keep it that way. So, in addition to falling behind, they also avoid lifting the green curtain and explaining what they’re doing and why. The more their clients stay in the dark, the happier they are. Which, obviously, is a very big problem because now we have millions of business owners depending 100% on their digital marketing for revenue, and they don’t understand it well enough to manage it. Up to this current era, business owners knew a lot about all aspects of their business — or at least enough to be able to tell when something was going off the rails, and what to do about it. This is not the case now. This concerns me. A lot. That was a rather long aside, but an important one. Now let’s take a quick look at the usual problems and how they can be solved.

Problem: The people building your dashboards don’t understand the basics of business.

Solution: Work with people who do. (By the way: a dashboard, in this sense, is a site that should help you see and understand the KPIs for your digital marketing.) Sounds simple, but it’s difficult to pull off. Most of the people who carry out digital marketing have been in business for a shorter time than the people at the other end of the spectrum (obviously), who have a lot of business experience. Thankfully, the younger folks are gaining business experience faster than the older people are gaining tech experience. That’s the good news. But there are too many older business owners who have built strong businesses who are now clueless about the basics of technology. In this age of apps, changes are happening faster than ever. If they were behind to start with, now their situation is really serious. I see this gap growing every year. The older folks are not going away anytime soon; there are plenty of business owners in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s who are still going strong. Even though there’s a lot to learn, they owe it to themselves to learn as much as they can from the people doing their marketing. They should be asking questions constantly. They can’t just say, “I’m not technical.” In this age of digital-driven business, this is like saying, “I’m not interested in succeeding.” They, in turn, need to teach their younger digital workers as much as possible about business. All generations will be better off if this exchange takes place. And, what you are measuring will make more sense.

Problem: There is too much confusing and conflicting data.

Solution: Find the best source and stick with it.   The smarter you get about measuring the results of digital marketing, the more you realize that even the most reliable sources can serve up conflicting data. One app may say you have X number of visitors and another might say it’s a different number, even if they are both using the same source. For example, many apps rely on Google Analytics for their source data, but then may interpret it differently. You can certainly get lost in the midst of all that data as you drill down, looking for data on what caused a spike or drop. Google Analytics, which does provide pretty much all you’d want to know about the visitors to your site and their behavior, is not the easiest application to navigate. Google has gotten a lot of apps right, but Google Analytics isn’t the best example. It’s been used too long by SEO specialists who have learned how to use it and like the fact that they are the only ones who can navigate it easily (another example of “profit-driven secrecy”).   The solution to this problem is to find the best source and stick with it. At least then you will be comparing apples to apples, and will be able to see which way your stats are trending month over month, as revealed by your chosen source. Don’t shoot for perfection; it’s a big, fat, distracting rabbit hole. Instead, decide how and what you’re going to measure, pick the right tool, and stick with it, at least for a while.

Problem: The data is often inconclusive.

Solution: There are two kinds of data you need to watch: emergency data and long-term data. Treat them differently. Let’s say you see a big spike or drop in your site traffic. When there is a drop, it is more than a cause for concern; it is an emergency which must be investigated ASAP. Another thing that developers won’t tell you is that sites — or at least parts of sites — break much more frequently than you would think. Now, I should say here that a client (whose company creates software for a living) mentioned recently that his site is up much more since we’ve been taking care of it. We take site uptime and accuracy very seriously. So I’m not saying this as if we take it lightly. What I am saying is that sites are living and breathing; a simple plugin update can wipe out the custom code on your site (are you making sure your site is backed up regularly?); your site hosting company can have an outage; someone can make a small mistake with your “robots.txt” file, which can have large consequences (the robots.txt file tells Google to which parts of your site to crawl — or not). Your site is an unpredictable three-year old who must be watched constantly. Again, any big spikes and drops need to be investigated immediately. The problem must be found and fixed. But there are other longer-term trends, such as the keywords you are being found for; the amount of traffic coming into your site; which pages and posts are most popular; the sources of your traffic; locations of visitors; and device use (mobile, desktop, tablet), all of which you should watch over the long term and use to make decisions about site improvements. Let the data tell you what’s happening over time, and continue to make adjustments. That’s another reason that a site is a living thing; people are interacting with it all the time. The data about their behavior can help you better understand what they want, how they’re using it, and what could make it better for them. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention here that interviewing customers helps you understand what they want and what they want to get from your site. That data tends to be very conclusive, if done the right way, it can take you miles closer to understanding what you should do next. Chapter 3 of my book (shameless plug: now available as an Audiobook!) provides the exact best method.

Problem: The way data is reported and presented is often confusing.

Solution: You should have an executive dashboard that presents only what you need to see, but also gives you the ability to drill down. This is trickier to do than it would seem, for all the reasons I’ve stated above. One of the more popular ways to build dashboards now is with Google’s Data Studio, which can give you all sorts of data in all kinds of formats. But because the tech is fairly new, it’s being used mostly by people who have less experience in business, and who aren’t used to thinking like a CEO or business owner. So the “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” rule tends to drive what is presented and how it’s presented. For the basics, you want your dashboard to show traffic trends, device use, downloaded or acted-upon site items, and the most popular posts and pages. You should also be able to easily adjust the date ranges and filters used (seeing only traffic from organic results, paid ads, or social, for example), and be able to click into the full-blown Google Analytics app when you want to drill down on something you see in the main dashboard. Whoever you hire to build your dashboard should be very familiar with your business before starting to work. You need to explain:
  • Who you’re selling to
  • If you are selling a product or a service (this will determine what you should be measuring; obviously if you are selling a product online, your online sales would be one of the key metrics).
  • What they buy from you and how they buy it
  • Where you stand versus your competition in the market (including what competitors are doing right)
  • What you’ve measured before and what frustrated you about it
  • What you can offer as a downloadable resource or other inducement to get a clickthrough, which you want to be tracked in Google Analytics
  • Results of campaigns that you are running, involving online advertising, email, social, video, and so on.
As you review the data, whoever built the dashboard for you should be able to answer your questions without being secretive or dismissive. Always hire the vendors who are happy to educate you. The return on your marketing investment will be higher if you thoroughly understand what you are managing. At the rate things are going now, there’s no doubt that no matter how much you learn, you can never learn enough. Frankly, I find this exciting, which is why I got into tech years ago. But it’s now essential for everyone. We are ALL technical now.

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The 5 behaviors of successful managers https://zhivagopartners.com/blog/top-five-behaviors-of-best-managers-kristin-zhivago/ https://zhivagopartners.com/blog/top-five-behaviors-of-best-managers-kristin-zhivago/#respond Tue, 01 May 2018 21:33:06 +0000 https://zhivagopartners.com/?p=27234 The best managers make it easier for everyone to do their best work; the worst managers make it more difficult, if not impossible. The companies run by the best managers thrive; the companies run by substandard managers struggle. How can you make sure you are behaving like a good manager, not a bad one?

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The most successful managers make it easier for everyone to do their best work; the worst managers make it more difficult, if not impossible. The companies run by the successful managers thrive; the companies run by substandard managers struggle. How can you make sure you are behaving like a good manager, not a bad one? My use of the word “behavior” is intentional. I’m not talking about the characteristics you were born with or developed as you were trying to grow up. I’m talking about your behavior, which comes from the conscious choices you are now making as an adult in management. An adult responsible for finding, hiring, guiding, encouraging, warning, and, sometimes, firing people who work for you.

Behavior #1: Be kind, and be fair.

The best managers are kind and fair, in all situations. They are as kind and fair to the jerk they are firing as they are to their best, most productive employee. They never get upset (unless it’s entirely appropriate), they calmly work through all issues, and they make decisions that will help everyone do a better job. We all have our quirks, strengths, and weaknesses. Any manager who is kind and fair will be easily forgiven for quirks and weaknesses. Workers pay attention to how others are treated; they see the decisions that are made; they know what is kind and fair. Fairness is one of the most important reasons that people stay or leave companies. If you choose to be a jerk, putting others at a disadvantage for your own gain, you will not be kind nor fair. You shouldn’t even be a manager. You’re in the wrong job. Frankly, I’m not sure which job you should be in, but it’s definitely not management. You will make everyone else’s working life a misery, and only the most desperate or devious people will work for you.

Behavior #2: Don’t abuse your position.

People who own and run companies are in a position of power. They are the leader. Leaders are held to a higher standard than the other people in the company, and rightfully so, as their decisions affect many others, positively or negatively. This is obvious on the face of it, but when you are the leader, how does that mean you should act? There’s the obvious answer, which is that you shouldn’t ask people to do things that make them uncomfortable or unnecessarily inconvenienced. However, many managers don’t appreciate how much a seemingly subtle or innocent request can slow down progress. For example, a CEO who routinely sends emails out to all his managers asking, “Is this something we should be investigating?” is slowing everyone down. Emails from the CEO, sent to multiple people, are “Important.” The need and desire to impress others, including the CEO, will be strong. Recipients will also feel that if they do not respond, they will be making a career mistake. So the five people who get that email will all stop their important, revenue-producing work to attempt to answer the CEO’s question. They will spend time doing some research, come to some conclusions, and then write their answer. Thus begins an email debate. Debates conducted via email are a revenue-sucking waste of your three most valuable resources: people, time, and patience. Instead of doing this, the CEO should take one of two approaches:
  1. Assign one person to these questions, someone who can do the preliminary research and come back with an answer such as, “This is a complete waste of time and not for us (and here’s why),” or, “This has some merit (and here’s why). Who do you think should investigate it further?”
  2. Gather up these questions and wait until the next staff meeting. Have a 15-minute session where you briefly mention each of these concepts or companies, and ask for their initial reactions. Everyone should know that the goal is simply to decide if this is worth pursuing or not; not to debate all the pros or cons of doing so.
When a CEO sneezes, the rest of the company gets pneumonia. What you do as a leader has an amplified effect on everyone in the company.

Behavior #3: Don’t dump, and debate only as much as needed to make a decision.

I’ve sat in meetings where the company leader spends 15 minutes telling a personal story that has no relevance to the company’s growth or progress. Or, the leader goes into excruciating detail about the particulars of a recent conversation or meeting (the dreaded “he said, she said”), which only serves to put the listeners asleep and keeps them from productive work. This is verbal dumping, and it will also suck the energy right out of your company. If you need to rant, talk to your spouse, a friend, or your dog. No one in your company should be your therapist. Just because you are paying them doesn’t give you the right to keep them from their work. You’ll also want to make sure you debate properly. Debate is healthy, but always with the goal of coming to a decision so action can be taken. Decisions drive actions, and actions drive revenue. The goal of every debate in business is to be able to take the next step. Sometimes the next step is, “We need to gather more data before we can make a decision,” because it is obvious from the debate that no one knows enough to make a decision. That’s fine. Firmly guide every debate to a decision on what to do next.

Behavior #4: Give clear instructions.

There is an art to giving clear instructions. None of us grow up knowing how to do it; no one teaches us as we are being schooled. We need to teach ourselves and keep getting better over time. Use clear, active language. Be clear about what the problem is and what you’re going to do about it. Provide the big picture and goal, then the details. Give people clear assignments. Use bullets. Use a system where the initial instructions are recorded and subsequent actions, questions, and answers are recorded. Give people what they need to get the job done; spelling it out clearly. Time spent giving good instructions will save two to five times as much time later, because people were confused or they were forced to make (usually incorrect) assumptions.

Behavior #5: Don’t let your emotions run your company.

Fear not. Be anxious for nothing. Why is this great advice? Because the truth is, whatever it is, if you stay calm and gather data and make good decisions, and help people do their work, you will succeed. Whatever happens, you will find a way to handle it. Whatever mistake is made, whatever your competition does, whatever the government decides to do, whatever disaster befalls you, you will find a way to handle it. There’s a lot of anger and hysteria filling our screens these days. There are a lot of people who get very upset when something goes wrong. The truth is, no one – no one – is immune from the reality of life. Stuff happens. And when you are in a position of leadership, with lots of people working for you, lots of stuff will happen. The less time you spend being angry or anxious about that stuff, the better. Your goal should be to entirely eliminate anxiety from your life. It is possible, and it’s an awesome way to live. Stuff just happened? OK. Got it. Now what do we do to fix it? The best defense against stuff happening is a strong offense. Every single day, the best managers find that thing that most needs fixing, and they fix it. As my father used to say, you do the “worst things first,” so they can never pile up.  Being a successful manager is one of the most rewarding things one can experience in the course of a career. The best news is, anyone can do it, with some focused behavior modification.

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